Ten Suggestions for the Confirmed FAA Administrator– republished

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U.S. Senate To Consider FAA Head Nominee Dickson May 15

Though an experienced private sector executive, federal political management is not the same

10 ideas for the Administrator to consider in his new position

Suggestions from those who have worked in the political/career interstice

After a bit of a wait, it appears that Captain Stephen Dickson’s nomination to be the 17th FAA Administrator for a 5 year term is about to be get the advice and consent of the Senate.



The FAA has had a bump in a period of relatively positive news (especially 2017 the safest year in aviation safety); the Boeing 737 MAX 8 crisis has added attention to the building at 800 Independence Ave. Though the Captain has likely flown the River Approach at DCA many times, but the territory defined by P-56 is different, especially when marked with political hazards.

After talking to a number of career and political executives at the FAA and DOT, here are some suggestions to help the Administrator acclimatize to the “cockpit” on the 10th floor (in no particular priority:

You have an exceptional SIC. Not only has Dan Elwell been doing an exceptional job of Administrator on an acting basis, but he worked as the Assistant Administrator for International Aviation and Policy. Heading a staff organization meant that had exposure to how the various operating organizations interact and to where to go for help. He also has knowledge of the industry, another useful skill.




Spend a day working your way up from the bottom of FOB 10A and B WITHOUT HANDLERS– JUST YOU.





Managing a 46,000 employee organization is a difficult task; doing so with seven political executives makes that assignment harder; but the fact that none of the people in those critical positions were selected by you adds to your managerial test. Early on (if not already), it would be good to get to know each of them, their areas of expertise and their political parentage.



Your term will have you at the FAA until 2024. You should act and plan the term–no need to rush. One AOA-1 hurt implementation of his agenda by rushing (did not have a 5 year term). The pace will make it clear that you have long term agenda.


A key asset of the Administrator is a position called a special or executive assistant. It might be appropriate to select one of these people from the career side of the house and one from the political[1] (it might be wise to ask the Secretary for candidates) side. The job does require some of the skills associated with the above “role models”—immense energy, x-ray vision, a deft touch (may not be seen in DC Comics) and more than a modicum of modesty (having superpowers tends to expand egos).


Have YOUR AGI-1 set up meeting with the Key Hill players; make it clear that you want to make things work, set rules–#1 no surprises. Learn their agenda and TRY to make them work. It may be easy, but  given the current political hostilities–maybe not–example NextGen back in the District. Meeting with senior powerful staff may be a better use of your time.




Things to do early once you’re there:


NextGen briefing–ask insightful, tough questions. Show your value based on your experience an operator within the ATC

Compliance/Data-drive/collaboration/not civil penalty program Briefing— ask Peggy Gilligan to brief 1st (she’s the author) and then ask AVS-1 and AGC-1to brief you on implementation. Learn about OIG and Hill questions on this important (and international) initiative.

 The B737 Max8 need not be high on your list of urgent briefings-The regulatory track, JART,  is the best process to fix the mess.

The long term problem underlying the MAX8 is the FAA’s foreign relations. $$$ cuts and foreign work is not considered as good career path as it once was. The CAAs jumped on the grounding charge because of relationships had grown thin/soured. Consider whether IASA can be improved– less grading exercise and more HELP/consultative.

NEXTGEN NOISE: difficult Hill issue, the ATC team may have more degrees of freedom than they have exercised; urge them to be more responsive to concerns.

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES (CO2 AND NOISE)-there is a major noise study pending, there may be a need to reassess the measurement of RNP concentrated noise and ICAO is in the midst of a study of carbon emissions. They are likely to reach final proposal stages soon; all will create major policy debates. There may be some land mines out there.

REENERGIZE THE FAA RANK AND FILE: Privatization, Shutdown/ Sequestration, Questions about the Gold Standard  and several other issues have deteriorated the FAA employee morale. Your leadership can communicate that they are the best.


The Administrator job is tremendously demanding. Long days, lots of travel, more than average stress, frustration with exogenous variables interfering with progress and need learn from a fire hose—all add to a taxing regime. Delegation is critical to success, but coffee and/or 5-hour Energy may be needed.









In your spare time, the NAPA has produced a library of well-written, practical advice.

Advice to Political Appointees

The rules applicable to Senate confirmation executives are many, arcane and complex. The media has declared open hunting season on anyone willing to take on such challenges. The Advice articles will flag those issues



THERE IS A STRONG SUPPORT GROUP OUT THERE. While there will be many, many critics seemingly attacking everything the FAA does, there is a community of people within and without the beltway who understand the challenges. Their knowledge of and appreciation for aviation as both a vocation and avocation is why they are called a Gathering of Eagles.  Learn who they are and rely on them.




[1] someone gifted in the ways of the Trump/White House and Chao/OST puzzle palaces


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1 Comment on "Ten Suggestions for the Confirmed FAA Administrator– republished"

  1. Nicely done. After reading it is a miracle anyone would take the job.

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