Biden to nominate Michael Whitaker for new FAA head

President Biden on Thursday announced he will nominate Michael Whitaker to serve as administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after a lack of leadership at the top of the agency amid ongoing issues with air travel.

Whitaker is the chief operating officer of Supernal, which is a Hyundai Motor Group company designing an electric advanced air mobility vehicle. He previously was deputy administrator at the FAA during the Obama administration from 2013 to 2016.

The FAA has been beset with high-profile mishaps like an alarming uptick in close calls at U.S. airports and a national flight grounding in January. 

Prior to his time at the FAA, Whitaker served as Group CEO of InterGlobe Enterprises, which is an Indian travel conglomerate and operator of the airline IndiGo. He also spent 15 years at United Airlines in various roles, including senior vice president. 

He began his aviation career as a litigator and as assistant general counsel of international and regulatory affairs at Trans World Airlines. And he is a private pilot and is on the board of Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes aviation safety globally.

The FAA has been without a permanent leader since March 2022, when Trump-appointed Administrator Steve Dickson stepped down.

Biden announced in June that deputy transportation secretary Polly Trottenberg would serve as interim head of the FAA as he struggled to get a permanent administrator in place. His last nominee, Phil Washington, withdrew his nomination in March amid criticism that he doesn’t have the proper experience.

While the FAA has dealt with air travel problems, much of that has largely fallen to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg with no permanent administrator in place.

Airlines for America (A4A), the lobbying organization for the major U.S. airlines, applauded the move to nominate Whitaker on Thursday. CEO Nicholas Calio said he has “extensive experience” working on priorities of major airlines.

“He has a deep understanding of and appreciation for the collaborative partnership between industry and government that is necessary to ensure air travel remains the safest mode of transportation in the world,” Calio said, urging the Senate to move quickly on confirming Whitaker.

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