Is it good for the FAA Administrator to serve out his term?

Sec. Chao swearing in Administrator Dickson
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Most technically qualified recent Administrator
Dealt with Max8 crisis masterfully

Perceived WHISTLEBLOWER problem with Democrats

On August 12, 2020 U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao  swore in Steve Dickson was sworn in as the FAA Administrator. Under the terms of the statute, Administrator Dickson’s  five-year term will end on August 12, 2025. His credentials made it clear that he was one of the most highly qualified candidates on the basis of his education and experience (some of the information is from his Presidential Nomination Announcement) :

Distinguished Graduate of the Class of 1979 at the United States Air Force Academy in Engineering Sciences

Graduate of the Georgia State University College of Law, magna cum laude.

 Delta Air Lines

27 years with the company- flew in line operations as an A320 captain, and previously flew the B727, B737, B757, and B767 during his career.

Senior Vice President-Flight Operations

responsible for the safety and operational performance of Delta’s global flight operations, as well as pilot training, crew resources, crew scheduling, and regulatory compliance.

 a strong advocate for commercial aviation safety and improvements to our National Airspace System, having served as chairman of several industry stakeholder groups and Federal advisory committees

Dickson is listed as a Republican, but even his vetting within the Trump Administration was controversial. The Delta pilot opposed the President’s ATC system privatization plan and the President’s personal pilot, John Dunkin, was the Chief Executive’s #1.

Trumps and Dunkin

The Senate Commerce Committee’s review included a controversy about the nominee’s role in Delta’s removal of a female first officer on the basis of the claim that she was bipolar. The issue was exacerbated in that his formal disclosure papers failed to mention the pilot’s OSHA appeal. However, Senator Cantwell (D-WA) learned of the case and asked Captain Dickson about what has been characterized as a WHISTLEBLOWER case[1]. The witness’ answers did not satisfy the Democrats, the Committee voted on pure party lines and the full Senate action was 52-40 with 7 voting absent Clearly a partisan result on a vote which historically drawn support from both sides of the aisle.Administrator Dickson test flying the B737 Max8

Contrary to the Rapoport/Malmquist opinion (below), Administrator Dickson’s expertise, education and experience were critical to the safe and successful reinstatement of the MAX 8. For that he should be commended for he stepped into one of  the most severe institutional crises in the FAA’s history.

First, he is a Republican working for a Democratic Administration with a pre-existing cabal of Senators and Representatives who distrust him on WHISTLEBLOWER issues. They  feel as though his nomination was rammed through Congress and will likely not give his answers much credence.

Second, furthering this political dissonance is the fact that Secretary-designate Buttigieg will name  Biden team members to the FAA’s political appointees –– the Deputy Administrator, Chief Counsel, Government and Industry Affairs and Policy, International Affairs and Environment. Administrator Dickson may not be privy to high level political discussions at DOT. Instead trusted Democrats likely will be invited to sensitive meetings,

Third, the FAA’s most recent safety advance has been implementing Safety Management Systems. Tremendous results have been obtained in the air carrier segment. More needs to be done in implementing internally and in industry. Again the WHISTLEBLOWER matter creates, at least, the perception that Dickson’s commitment to SMS is suspect.

These realities may cause Administrator Dickson to realize that trying to stay in his office until August 12, 2025 may not be the best strategy for the FAA and himself.

The next occupant of this critical position should not be someone who knows nothing of the FAA’s rank and file. Realigning these career servants’ personal goals with the organization’s redefined regimen requires deep insights into the people spread all over the world. BIG QUESTIONS: Who can step in and fulfill needed leadership out in the field; who has the interpersonal skills to assist transitions; who has the technical expertise to help develop his technical reports. Immediate credibility with your Congressional overseers is another important credential for a new Administrator. What is least needed is a media personality who has a media profile for quick, smart answers!!!

ideal candidate



By Roger Rapoport and Captain Shem Malmquist

rapoport and malmquist

[the nomination of Capt. Sullenberger is a separate question;

so, the Opinion’s statements in support for the Administrator

have been excerpted out]

Dear Pete Buttigieg:

Congratulations on your nomination to replace Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation. We suggest the first order of business for you and President-elect Biden should be to ask FAA Administrator Steve Dickson to submit his resignation. 

Confirmed for a five-year appointment last year in an unusually contentious Senate debate focused on ethical and legal questions, he has been widely criticized for his handling of the 737 MAX and Covid-19 challenges. Your decision is critical to both the health and safety of the traveling public. His vital agency is at a critical juncture and will benefit from new leadership.

Another major reason why Dickson should resign early in his term is his failed attempt to cover up employee harassment while a senior executive at Delta.

Delta First Officer Karlene Petitt

…Reviewing the Trump/Chao nominee, Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) discovered a key conflict of interest missed in the vetting process at the White House and the Department of Transportation. During the previous three years Delta Senior Vice President Dickson had been at the center of an ongoing whistleblower case filed by a veteran Delta Pilot Karlene Petitt. One of her documented allegations had already prompted the FAA to revise a key safety requirement for the entire industry. Others were at the center of her whistleblower lawsuit on appeal at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). At the confirmation hearing Cantwell said:

Senator Cantwell

“Information brought to our committee in recent weeks calls into question the safety culture that existed under Mr. Dickson that allowed a safety whistleblower to be retaliated against. The nominee’s lack of candor about the issue was also troubling.

“I recently met with a Delta Air Lines pilot, First Officer Karlene Petitt, who has been flying for 40 years. Petitt told me she had repeatedly raised concerns about the safety culture at Delta to a number of executives, including Mr. Dickson. Instead of being celebrated for her potentially life-saving diligence, Petitt was sent for a compulsory mental health examination with a company-approved psychiatrist who incorrectly diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. This… cost her 18 months of flying. “

Mr. Dickson described the decision to refer First Officer Petitt for a compulsory mental health examination as ‘sound.’ In the course of following up on First Officer Petitt’s allegations, Mr. Dickson has… repeatedly sought to minimize his role in this extremely troubling episode. However, the written record… contradicts the picture Mr. Dickson has sought to paint of minimal involvement.

“Given the urgent need for stronger safety culture and transparency throughout the FAA, these incidents do not paint the picture of the type of leadership that we need. Mr. Dickson’s oversight of these matters raises serious questions about his leadership, and therefore I will not support his nomination.” Cantwell.

…After reviewing Petitt’s case another medical expert at the Mayo Clinic, concluded:

“This has been a puzzle for our group—the evidence does not support presence of a psychiatric diagnosis but does support an organizational/corporate effort to remove this pilot from the rolls.”

Dickson defended his former employer’s decision to pay $74,000 to Dr. David Altman, the Illinois psychiatrist who concluded in his report that Petitt was “bipolar” and unfit to fly for Delta.

“We’ve never had a partisan vote on an FAA nominee in the past, and I believe that we should have found consensus on a nominee for the FAA, given all of the concerns the public has about flying safety,” responded Senator Cantwell.

Voting against Dickson, she added, “will help us create an environment where whistleblowers will be listened to.”

The Republican dominated committee advanced Dickson’s nomination to the Senate July 10, 2019, on a straight 14-12 party line vote.


Captain Shem Malmquist

Roger Rapoport


See also: Ralph Nader’s Letter to FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson;

[1] Well after the Administrator’s swearing, this case resulted in some damning statements: Christine Negroni Delta Retaliated Against Pilot By Sending Her to Shrink – Judge Rules; FAA Chief Helped Delta Retaliate Against Whistleblower in Previous Role, Administrative Judge Rules

Administrator Dickson


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2 Comments on "Is it good for the FAA Administrator to serve out his term?"

  1. Name Withheld by Request | December 29, 2020 at 5:42 pm | Reply

    Sullenberger would be one of the LAST people I would advocate to bcome FAA Administrator. The fact that he DID HIS JOB in landing his aircraft in the Hudson that day, and in favorable conditions, does not qualify him to be FAA Administrator.

    Regarding the “whistleblower”…I know her too. I could have almost predicted she would do something like this. She has a very long history of self-serving behavior. You can call her “doctor” if you want but I wouldn’t put faith in anything she has to say. – from a 60 year aviator with over 37,000 hrs and 10 T-category type ratings. I have seen it all.

  2. I would hope that a pilot with your experiences would want to validate two such damning comments by INCLUDING YOUR NAME!!! Anonymity diminishes credibility– 60 years or not.
    “What is least needed is a media personality who has a media profile for quick, smart answers!!!” should make clearer whether Sullenberger is qualified.
    Hope that you read your AFM more closely.

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