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FAA administrator nominee backs out of Senate confirmation process

The Biden administration's pick to lead the FAA has removed himself from the confirmation process. Phil Washington faced scrutiny from Republicans in the U.S. Senate, and a committee vote for his nomination was delayed earlier this week. Reuters first reported the development on Saturday night, saying the decision was due to the opposition, with at least two Democrats not yet publicly announcing how they would vote to approve the CEO of the Denver International Airport (DEN). Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg defended the selection of Washington in a tweet Saturday night. "The FAA needs a confirmed Administrator, and Phil Washington's transportation (and) military experience made him an excellent nominee," he wrote. "The partisan attacks and procedural obstruction he has faced are undeserved, but I respect his decision to withdraw and am grateful for his service." The FAA has not had a permanent leader since March 2022, when Steve Dickson stepped down. Billy Nolen has served as acting administrator since. Both Dickson and Nolen are pilots, while Washington is not. The 24-year Army veteran spent the bulk of his civilian career overseeing ground-based mass transit. He served for six years as the CEO of the Los Angeles County Transportation Authority prior to taking over in Denver in July 2021.PREVIOUS STORY: Biden makes pick for next FAA leader; NBAA welcomes the move Among the largest critics of Washington's nomination has been Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who questioned whether Washington had enough aviation experience for the position."Given the significant challenges facing the FAA, this wasn't the time for an administrator who needed on-the-job training," Cruz tweeted on Sunday. "The Biden administration must now quickly name someone to head the FAA who has an extensive aviation background, can earn the widespread bipartisan support of the Senate and will keep the flying public safe." PREVIOUS STORY: Nominee for FAA Administrator faces scrutiny at Senate hearingWashington's supporters included the CEO of Southwest Airlines, Joby Aviation and the unions representing commercial airline pilots and flight attendants, who argued that the FAA most needs a managerial leader. Senate supporters have argued that the FAA and the aviation industry have gotten too close, pointing out issues with the approval process of the Boeing 737 MAX and the two tragic crashes after its rollout blamed in part on lax safety oversight during testing.Washington also faced concerns from some over his ties to a whistleblower corruption case during the time he oversaw the LA County Transportation Authority.PREVIOUS STORY: Biden's FAA pick tied to LA County corruption probe Whoever takes over the reins of the FAA, in addition to facing political hurdles in D.C., also will need to gain clearance over a host of safety and security issues, including the modernization of the NOTAM system that failed earlier this year due to a contractor mishap, causing the first nationwide ground stoppage since 9/11. The Senate voted earlier this week on a bill to address the issue.RELATED STORIES: NBAA-proposed amendments included in NOTAM improvement bill Safety alert issued after series of runway incursions, FAA urges airlines and pilots to take actionAn unnamed White House official did not give a timeline for submitting a new nomination to the Senate."Politics must not hold up confirming an administrator to lead the FAA, and we will move expeditiously to nominate a new candidate," the official told the media outlet. "We believe the Senate owes it to the American people to swiftly consider and confirm a leader to this key safety agency."
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