Steve Dickson, the former Delta Air Lines senior v-p who was sworn in as the 18th FAA Administrator on Aug. 12, 2019, is stepping down from the role at the end of March—halfway through his full five-year term. Dickson informed employees of his “very difficult” decision in a letter on Wednesday, saying “after sometimes long and unavoidable periods of separation from my loved ones during the pandemic, it is time to devote my full time and attention to them.”
Dickson pointed to the agency’s accomplishments over the past couple of years, saying the workforce has built a “stronger, more collaborative, inclusive, and open culture” and reinvigorated its safety culture. “I believe we are stronger than ever,” he said.
However, during his term Dickson has faced some unprecedented challenges, stepping into the fallout out of the Boeing Max crashes immediately after taking the helm of the agency and, a little more than six months later, tackling the full ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic that grounded airplanes and caused rolling temporary disruptions of air traffic control facilities. More recently, he has been working through the issues surrounding the implementation of 5G in the C-Band, adjacent to frequencies used by aviation.
During his time, the agency has begun to overhaul its certification procedures, pulling more work in-house and adding more oversight, at the behest of Congress. During the pandemic, the agency quickly mobilized to implement procedures to keep the airspace operating to the fullest extent possible, including numerous extensions of key medical and training requirements, and limit shutdowns of its air traffic control towers. More recently, the FAA has been working through the 5G situation, establishing stop-gap measures.
Of note for business aviation, the agency also issued a congressionally-mandated and long-awaited rule surrounding electronic pilot records but included corporate flight departments in the requirements for the first time over the objections of the industry.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg praised his stewardship, calling Dickson a “steady and skilled captain” and saying, “While all of us at USDOT will miss Steve as a leader and as a colleague, we are very happy for him and his wife, Janice, as they embark upon this next chapter together."
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) chairman Pete DeFazio (D-Oregon) noted that he and Dickson didn’t always “see eye to eye”—Dickson faced the fire of the committee as it dug into the underlying issues surrounding the Max crashes—but he thanked Dickson for “his dedicated service to our country during such a challenging time for aviation.”
DeFazio’s Republican counterpart on the T&I committee, Rep. Sam Graves (Missouri), however, had high praise for Dickson, citing “outstanding leadership and a steady hand…At a difficult time for the agency, Steve stepped up and led the FAA with confidence and strength, working to restore public confidence in our aviation system while implementing important bipartisan improvements to the aircraft certification process. Steve never compromised on safety.”
Looking forward, DeFazio called on President Joe Biden to nominate a leader that will “aggressively implement our landmark certification reform legislation, hold Boeing accountable for the tragic consequences of their decision to put profits over people when rolling out the 737 Max and ensure the safe coexistence of 5G wireless service and aviation.”
While too soon to announce a potential successor, often the deputy administrator will step in as acting administrator until a permanent replacement is confirmed. The current deputy administrator is Bradley Mims, who took the role in February 2021 with a 40-year public and private service background that included government affairs for the FAA during the Clinton Administration.