Thanks, Dan Elwell, for a Job Well done for Aviation Safety

Dan Elwell in Cockpit
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No. 2 FAA official who ran agency during 737 MAX crisis stepping down

Thu, October 29, 2020, 10:02 AM EDT·1 min read

WASHINGTON, Oct 29 (Reuters) – Dan Elwell, the No. 2 official at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who oversaw the agency during the initial phase of the Boeing 737 MAX crisis, plans to step down, he told Reuters.

Deputy FAA Administrator Elwell, who was acting administrator from January 2018 through August 2019, made the decision in March 2019 to ground the Boeing 737 MAX after the second fatal crash in five months. “It’s looking very, very likely that the MAX is at the end of its travails,” Elwell told Reuters in an interview. “We’re getting to the latter steps.” An FAA spokeswoman said Elwell plans to leave near the end of November. (Reporting by David Shepardson)

Huerta, Elwells, Chao


The aviation career of Daniel K. Elwell is impressive—USAFA graduate (earned his wings, flew as a command pilot[Desert Storm], Lt. Colonel), flew 16 years with American Airlines, flying DC-10, MD-80, and B-757/767 aircraft, [TOTAL HOURS recorded military and civilian 6,000]. He worked for both A4A and AIA; those assignments helped sharpen his knowledge of civilian operations and aircraft certification.

Before his current posting at 800 Independence Ave., Dan served a two year assignment as  the FAA Assistant Administrator for Policy, Planning, and Environment (2006–2008). This job exposed him to issues like the environment, economic justification for rule-makings and  analysis of a wide range of initiatives.

Capt. Elwell was well prepared for the substance of his job as the #2 executive at the FAA. He may not have been exposed to some of the monumental headaches he would encounter for the three years.

The Deputy Administrator is also the second most senior political appointee for a 50,000 person, technical agency. Usually the Administrator and his/her Deputy serve as a conduit between the DOT Secretary and the career civil servants. Dan, from June 2017 until January 2018[i], was one door away from a person named by President Obama. They must have established an effective means of communications in which the Deputy may have had access to information to which his boss may not have been privy.

Then from January 2018 until July 2019, Elwell was the Acting Administrator in one of the most tumultuous time in FAA. Dealing with the Max 8 crisis was the time to try men’s’ souls. The decisions he had to make had to have made sleep difficult for months. The technical issues, contrary to the impressions created by the press, were not easily resolvable.2

737 max crisis

Eventually, Dan resumed his Deputy job. To round out his term, the COVID-19 crisis was added to the FAA’s crowded agenda.

Flight attendant, pilot and cleaners in COVID-19 modes

Demands to mandate masks, not to require them, to impose social distancing, to premise access to the cabin based on testing, etc. were heard from the White House, CDC, pilots, flight attendants, airlines, governors, etc. “Why can’t a safety agency impose a mask rule on passengers?”

To those knowledgeable about aviation safety, the almost unanimous opinion is that Dan Elwell did an excellent job.

The Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) awarded Administrator Daniel K. Elwell with the 2019 the Glen A. Gilbert Memorial Award, ATCA’s highest honor and one of the most prestigious awards in aviation. We agree.

Dan and family with ATCA award

[i] By statute the Administrator is in the office for a 5 year term; so the very capable Mr. Huerta served into a new Administration.  Administrator Dickson, whose term ends in 2024, my face a similar dilemma.

2 The decisions on the Max 8 certification, approval of the MCAS and the role of the ODA were made by a previous FAA team.


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