Babbitt Resigns after DWI Arrest

 - January 2, 2012, 5:50 AM

Former airline captain and pilot’s union president J. Randy Babbitt resigned abruptly as FAA Administrator on December 6 in the wake of a drunk-driving arrest in Northern Virginia, just outside the Washington, D.C., Beltway.

Babbitt was stopped at about 10:30 p.m. on December 3 when a City of Fairfax patrol officer saw a car traveling on the wrong side of Old Lee Highway, about nine miles from Reston, Va., where Babbitt lives. The 65-year-old agency boss was alone in the vehicle, which not involved in a crash with any other object, Fairfax police said.

After authorities determined that Babbitt was under the influence of alcohol, he was taken to the adult-detection center, where a magistrate issued a warrant for diving while intoxicated (DWI). He was released the same night on a personal-recognizance bond. Fairfax police do not release the blood-alcohol level of those charged, nor the results of field sobriety tests. Virginia law defines DWI as a .08 blood-alcohol concentration.

Resignation Follows Leave of Absence

Babbitt did not inform his immediate superior, Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, about his arrest until December 5. The DOT secretary said he first learned about the arrest from a police press release more than 36 hours after the incident.

When the arrest became public, Babbitt, an internationally recognized expert in aviation and labor relations, requested a leave of absence from his post as FAA Administrator, which DOT granted. The agency named Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta as acting administrator.

The next day Babbitt submitted his resignation to LaHood. “Serving as FAA Administrator has been an absolute honor and the highlight of my professional career,” he wrote. “But I am unwilling to let anything cast a shadow on the outstanding work done 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by my colleagues at the FAA.”

LaHood praised Babbitt as a dedicated public servant and outstanding leader. “He worked tirelessly to improve relations with the labor community and bolstered employee engagement among his 49,000 colleagues at the FAA,” LaHood said in a statement. “He led the FAA’s efforts to improve pilot training and enhance safety for the traveling public, as well as those that work in aviation.”

Babbitt was named FAA Administrator in 2009 and was less than halfway through his five-year term. He logged 25 years as a pilot for now-defunct Eastern Air Lines before heading the Air Line Pilots Association and later working as a consultant at Wyvern.

Huerta, who was managing director of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, was named as the FAA’s deputy administrator in June 2010 to oversee the agency’s multibillion-dollar NextGen ATC modernization program.

Before that, he was with Affiliated Computer Services from 2002 to 2009. He also has worked with ports departments in New York City and San Francisco. From 1993 to 1998, Huerta held senior positions at DOT.