Mr. Washington, Biden’s political choice for FAA Administrator, faces many challenges

Mr. Washington testifying
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FAA Administrator is one of 7 political positions

Nominee has solid military, transit and airport record

Mr. Washington and his team face some substantial challenges

President Biden recently submitted the nomination of Philip A. Washington to the Senate to be FAA Administrator for a statutory term of 5 years. An unexpected resignation of the previous Administrator impacts the functioning of this aviation safety organization. This is one of 7 executives selected by every Executive Branch to manage this high profile governmental agency.

On might ask why the FAA has any executives who are selected by a political process and what can these individuals contribute to AVIATION SAFETY?

The FAA is a highly technical organization that operates 24/7/365 across seven time zones with 45,000 employees. Because its mission of aviation safety, the FAA attracts a considerable attention from its “Board of Directors” a/k/a Congress, other elements of the Executive Branch, stakeholders and the public. To deal with the Hill and the administration, there is a layer of seven political appointees (see yellow below).

They all, individually and collectively, listen to the highly competent technical and operational career employees, in particular their own staffs. The Administrator is supported by these six political positions

Deputy Administrator,

Chief Counsel,

Associate Administrator for Airports,

Assistant Administrator for Policy, International Affairs & Environment,

Assistant Administrator for Government & Industry Affairs


Assistant Administrator for Communications  

Each of these qualified individuals’ primary purpose is to  convey the policy guidance for their team as articulated by the Administrator, the Secretary and the President. Broad parameters can be lost in their translation to the precise wording of rules, establishment of exacting criteria, personnel decisions and the other minutiae which impact aviation.   All seven of these executives must be able to decipher the jargon and engineering data and a whole host of aviation-specific measurements. Most importantly, after such reviews their professional judgments move up the policy-making food chain.

This same internal analysis is repeated when some outside interest is involved, in particular the Hill, but also the industry and passenger associations. In such contexts, these representatives of the FAA must exhibit  command of the specifics concerns. The credibility of these visible actions is tested in Hill Hearings, meetings with outside groups, press interviews and administrative proceedings. Failure to be convincing diminishes the public acceptance of these safety decisions.

The FAA has had a difficult time over the recent past. The addition of an authoritative nominee is critical to restoring the FAA’s stature. Someone to be valued in this top job is one who can distinguish between an unwarranted criticism from external sources and an unjustifiable internal recommendation. Clearly this nominee is well positioned to work with the  eight organizations who represent the employees.

FAA employee groups


Once confirmed Mr. Washington can prove his mettle in all aspects of his job. Washington contemplating








Biden taps Denver airport chief to be next FAA administrator

Phillip A. Washington ran transit systems in Denver and Los Angeles and was a member of Biden’s transition team

Washington at White HousePresident Biden on Wednesday nominated longtime transit official Phillip A. Washington to lead the Federal Aviation Administration — a move that could place an ally atop an agency wrestling with challenges such as certifying the safety of new aircraft and managing surging air travel amid the pandemic.

Washington, 64, who headed Biden’s transition team for transportation after the 2020 election, was named chief executive of Denver International Airport last summer [July, 2021], adding aviation to a career marked by experience in transit. He served as chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority[1] from 2015 to 2021[2], holding the same role at the Denver Regional Transportation District before that.

Washington's work experience

His nomination comes as the FAA is under pressure from airlines and passengers to accommodate a growing number of air travelers amid rising numbers of flight delays and cancellations. The FAA has also been working to rebuild its image in the wake of two fatal Boeing Max jet crashes after investigations questioned whether the agency was too deferential to the aerospace giant in certifying the jet was safe to operate.


Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which will consider Washington’s nomination, said in a statement that she looks forward to “careful consideration of Mr. Washington’s nomination during the confirmation process”. “Now more than ever, FAA must set the gold standard in aviation safety,” she said. “This starts from the top.”

Washington did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment. If confirmed, he would bring a different background to the job than recent FAA administrators, who often had extensive experience in the aviation industry or as a commercial pilot.

Stephen Dickson, who was appointed FAA administrator by President Donald Trump, flew for Delta Air Lines and served as an executive at the airline for several years. Daniel K. Elwell, who served as acting administrator before Dickson’s appointment, was an American Airlines pilot, as was Billy Nolen, the FAA’s current acting administrator.

Industry officials said Washington’s experience in the transportation industry and managing large bureaucracies would serve him well at the FAA.


Kevin M. Burke, chief executive of Airports Council International North America, said in a statement that as chief executive of Denver International, Washington demonstrated he was a “real innovator and problem-solver during one of the most difficult times our industry has faced.” “His knowledge and experience are exactly what we need in an FAA administrator,” Burke said. “This will be particularly important as we continue efforts to implement the bipartisan infrastructure bill and begin work on the next FAA reauthorization.”

 […”Furthermore, his strong track record when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion clearly illustrates his understanding that our industry is about much more than facilities and regulations — it’s also about the people who support it.”][3]

Nicholas E. Calio, president and chief executive of Airlines for America, the airline industry’s leading trade group, said in a statement the organization “will continue to collaborate with the agency to ensure that commercial aviation remains the safest mode of transportation in the world especially as we emerge from the pandemic.

Todd Hauptli, chief executive of the American Association of Airport Executives, called Washington an “incisive, thoughtful, deliberate and a gifted, intentional leader.”

Washington also received praise from the largest airline employees union, the Transport Workers Union of America, which said he has been “one of the strongest voices for creating and sustaining high-quality jobs with government investment — including when transitioning to new technologies.”

[“Phil Washington has a long history of working with unions to improve our transportation systems. ..Washington is the leader we need to raise safety standards on aircraft maintenance, eliminate worker assaults onboard aircraft and at airports, and responsibly integrate uncrewed vehicles and new air mobility business models into our skies.”]3

As head of the Los Angeles Metro system, Washington oversaw 11,000 employees and managed a budget of more than $8 billion, according to the White House. Los Angeles’s system transported 1.2 million boarding passengers daily using a fleet of 2,200 buses and six rail lines. The FAA has a workforce of 45,000 and a $17.5 billion budget.

Washington is a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Army, where he held the rank of command sergeant major. He retired from active duty and was awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, given to members of the military who “rendered superior meritorious service in a position of significant responsibility,” according to the Department of Defense.

Washington's education

Washington grew up on Chicago’s South Side and has a bachelor’s degree in business from Columbia College, and a master’s in management from Webster University.

If confirmed, he would replace Nolen, who was tapped to serve as acting FAA administrator following the departure of Dickson, who announced in February he was stepping down to spend more time with his family.

[1] Impressive work: see Transportation Trust – Phillip A. Washington – Miami-Dade County (

[2] February 2021, after informing the Metro Board not to renew or extend his contract, Washington announced he would be retiring from the post that May

[3] Added text from full press release.

FAA headquarters


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1 Comment on "Mr. Washington, Biden’s political choice for FAA Administrator, faces many challenges"

  1. At a hearing on General Aviation, a message was sent to Nominee Washington-

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