The White House’s announced plans to nominate Stephen Dickson to a five-year term as FAA administrator was broadly welcomed by a cross-section of industry leaders, who characterized the former Delta Air Lines executive as a champion of safety with deep industry knowledge.
Yesterday’s announcement of the proposed nomination comes more than a year after the last permanent FAA administrator, Michael Huerta, completed his five-year term, but also as the agency has come increasingly under scrutiny for its activities surrounding the Boeing 737 Max series in the aftermaths of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airline crashes.
The current acting administrator, Dan Elwell, has generated acclaim for his stewardship in absence of a permanent head. But Elwell was believed to have taken his name out of contention for the position. NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen praised Elwell for “steadfast professionalism in leading the agency through this period of transition.”
Bolen was equally enthusiastic about the prospect of Dickson’s appointment to the position. “Steve is a leader whose comprehensive understanding of our national air transportation system and the efforts underway to keep building a ‘Next Generation’ system are second to none,” Bolen said. “NBAA has worked closely with Steve for many years, and we welcome his nomination.”
A 1979 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, Dickson was an F-15 fighter pilot before becoming an airline pilot and ultimately becoming part of the senior leadership team at Delta. He retired last year as senior v-p of flight operations. In that role, he was responsible for the safety and operational performance of global flight operations, pilot training, crew resources, crew scheduling, and regulatory compliance.
Following the announcement Airlines for America (A4A) released a statement saying it “applauds the nomination. During his distinguished career, he has demonstrated strong leadership and unwavering dedication to aviation. His focus on safety, innovation, and people make him a natural to lead.”
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association president and CEO Mark Baker agreed, calling the selection a “solid choice,” adding, “His in-depth knowledge of our aviation system and keen awareness of general aviation, as well as the challenges before us, make him the right choice to lead the agency.” Baker also has worked alongside Dickson on the NextGen Advisory Committee and noted his past opposition of ATC privatization. Dickson had called such a move “reckless,” fearing it would disrupt NextGen implementation, AOPA said.
General Aviation Manufacturers Association president Pete Bunce has called Dickson “a great leader,” and like Baker has been encouraged by the fact that “he articulated very well for Delta the value of the current ATC system in the privatization debate.”
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which represents the largest workforce that would be under Dickson’s purview, additionally strongly endorsed the nomination, with NATCA chief Paul Rinaldi calling the move “a well-deserved appointment…Throughout his career, Steve has been a staunch advocate for aviation safety.
Meanwhile, the Air Line Pilots Association added that his extensive transportation experience would give him “a unique opportunity to enhance the safety of commercial aviation.” The nomination, the association added, “comes at a particularly critical time for the FAA, and it is our hope and expectation that the first of order business for him will be to reaffirm the agency’s steadfast commitment to safety.”
Other associations, including the Helicopter Association International, additionally congratulated Dickson on the appointment and noted they were looking forward to working with him.