Biden’s pick to head FAA withdraws amid Republican opposition

A White House official blamed Republicans for sinking the nomination of a well-qualified and experienced candidate

President Biden's FAA pick, left, facing freshman Senator JD Vance at a confirmation hearing. AFP
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US President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Federal Aviation Administration has withdrawn his name from consideration due to Republican opposition in the Senate, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.

Phil Washington has managed Denver International Airport since 2021 and had largely surface transportation experience before that, and Republicans questioned his lack of aviation experience. Mr Washington has never worked as a pilot — but neither did three of the last confirmed administrators, who have come to his defence.

Phil Washington would have been the FAA's first black administrator. AFP

The US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is composed of 27 Senators and led by chairwoman Maria Cantwell and ranking member Ted Cruz.

“As former leaders of the FAA, we know how important it is to have a Senate-confirmed administrator,” former FAA administrators Michael Huerta and Jane Garvey, and former acting administrator Linda Daschle, wrote in a letter to Ms Cantwell and Mr Cruz.

“We also know what it takes to effectively run the FAA,” they said, noting that none of them were pilots.

“The FAA has gone through a difficult period and Mr Washington offers a fresh perspective for setting a new course,” they added. “Having a 30,000-foot view does not require getting a pilot’s license.”

In a Twitter post late on Saturday, Mr Buttigieg blamed “partisan attacks and procedural obstruction” for Mr Washington’s decision, saying they were “undeserved” but that he “respect[s] his decision to withdraw”.

The FAA has been without a permanent leader for about a year. Mr Washington would have been the agency’s first permanent black administrator if confirmed.

A White House official said Mr Washington had the right qualifications and experience for the role and blamed Republican attacks for sinking his nomination. The FAA will move swiftly to nominate a new candidate, according to the official.

Among the disputes was Republicans’ insistence that Mr Washington’s status as a military retiree meant he required a waiver passed by both chambers. The administration and Democratic politicians said a waiver was not needed.

A recent series of near-crashes in US aviation have turned attention to the FAA, prompting steps by the agency to review safety.

Bloomberg contributed to this report

Updated: March 26, 2023, 2:23 PM

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