Requiem in Pacem- John Hickey

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Career FAA employee who established a high standard of excellence

Started at entry level and finished a step from the FAA’s most important safety position

Facing extraordinary internal and external challenges, he helped create and implement brilliant strategies

Aviation, in its most basic level, is PEOPLE. Individuals with a deep inner passion for SAFETY who insure that flights operate at the lowest possible risk levels and John Hickey was one of those souls. Sadly, he is no longer part of the FAA executive team.

John Hickey was named FAA Deputy Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety in December 2009. A well-earned pinnacle in a 33 year career in the FAA. Moving up the ladder from a test flight engineer. Before taking a civil service position, he spent 10 years in the private sector,

Peggy Gilligan, who had been deputy associate administrator, selected John to be her alter ego when she was named AVS-1. Ms. Gilligan selecting John was the highest compliment possible because (i) in her previous position she interacted with all  of the key players within the Safety organization in DC and out in the regions and (ii) she knew the requirements of AVS-2 having occupied that chair for 11 years.

John assisted his boss by providing oversight and direction for

  • the certification, production approval, and continued airworthiness of aircraft; { a subject matter for which John was highly qualified given his leadership of AIR-1 for 9 years, his work for a manufacturer as an engineer and a BS degree in aerospace engineering.}
  • the certification of pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, and others in safety-related positions;
  • the certification of all operations and maintenance enterprises in domestic civil aviation;
  • development of regulations;


  • the certification and safety oversight the U.S. commercial airlines and air operators.

The leadership of these two executives had direct impact on every facet of domestic and international civil aviation and are the heart of the nation’s aviation safety efforts. Aviation Safety programs are carried out by a work force of more than 7,000 employees located in Washington headquarters, eight regional offices, and more than 120 field offices throughout the world.

Peggy and John faced some major challenges, like

  • constant Congressional pressure to do more with less
  • an industry bringing disruptive technology to the certification service
  • a domestic OEM industry facing intense foreign competition seeking a more predictable reliable airworthiness review
  • foreign CAAs requesting parity for their TC decisions when the FAA’s overseas workforce was no expanding to meet this demand
  • operators expanding in number of carriers and in the scope of their systems
  • a workforce empowered by Congressional hearings to ignore new policies and/or different work assignments
  • a charge from ICAO and the NTSB to require all certificate holders to implement Safety Management Systems- a transition not openly welcomed by the regulated and openly disliked by the field staff
  • a global interest, primarily private industry, to shift from prescriptive certification (14 CFR Parts 21, 23, 25…) to a performance-based regime.
  • And a host of other requirements

John worked with Peggy to fashion a long list of improvements of internal realignments, external standards and attitude changes on both sides of the regulatory processes. The direction is unquestionably right, but the ability of their successors to implement them is, as of yet, unclear.

Before being named the deputy associate administrator, John served as the director of the aircraft certification service (AIR) from October 2000. As the director, John was responsible for the design certification, production approval, and continued airworthiness of the U.S. civil aircraft fleet, and was directly involved in the development and implementation of several significant safety and security actions, including fuel tank safety, the aging airplane program and flight deck door security initiatives.

John’s career with FAA began in 1990 as a flight test engineer in the Transport Airplane Directorate. During his 10 years in the directorate, John also served as the international program manager and the manager of the flight test and systems branch before becoming the manager of the Transport Airplane Directorate.

Prior to joining FAA, John worked for The Boeing Company for 10 years on the aerodynamics staff of the engineering division. He first became involved in aircraft certification in 1984 on the Boeing 737-300 program, and subsequently served as certification lead for aerodynamics performance on the 737-400, 737-400HGW, and 737-500 programs. While at Boeing, John was a designated engineering representative (DER) for FAA.

In April 2002, John received the “Nuts and Bolts” award from the Engineering, Maintenance, and Material Council of the Airline Transportation Association, in recognition for “his leadership in restoring public confidence in aviation after September 11, 2001, through regulatory management of cockpit door security enhancements and other security measures”.

In 2003, John received the U.S. Secretary of Transportation’s “Transportation 9/11 Award.”

John was born and raised in Boston, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Boston University in 1980. John moved back to his hometown. John was survived by his mother and two sons

Deepest condolences to all of the Hickey Family,

John smiling


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