Acting FAA Head To Leave Agency This Summer

The agency has faced a myriad of problems in recent months and has been without a permanent leader for more than a year.

In yet another blow to the FAA, Acting Administrator Billy Nolen announced he will depart the agency this summer once a new nominee is named.

In a letter to staff on Friday, Nolen called his time leading the agency a “dream any aviator would envy.” He noted, “I have given everything to this agency, and now it’s time to do the same for my family, who have sacrificed so much and supported me during my time at the FAA.”

The air safety agency has faced a myriad of problems in recent months and has been without a permanent leader for more than a year. In March, President Biden’s pick to head the FAA, Phil Washington, withdrew himself from consideration following scrutiny from key lawmakers who say he lacks the experience to head the agency.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who strongly opposed Washington’s nomination, suggested Nolen would make a qualified candidate and would breeze through confirmation hearings—noting his background and decades of aviation experience.

Before being appointed acting administrator, Nolen served as the FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety and has also held multiple leadership positions at several airlines.

In a tweet, Cruz wished Nolen well, writing, “I want to thank Billy Nolen for his leadership at the FAA and his steadfast dedication to aviation safety. I wish him well in his future endeavors and I hope POTUS acts swiftly to appoint a nominee who will bring the same level of experience and commitment to service as Mr. Nolen.”

DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg also praised Nolen for his public service. “I can speak for everyone at DOT in saying that his skill and expertise are a great asset to this department, and will continue to be as FAA prepares for its upcoming leadership transition.”

Nolen’s departure puts significant pressure on the administration to nominate a new candidate as the aviation sector has dealt with a number of post-pandemic issues—including staffing shortages, flight disruptions, and several near-misses and runway incursions.

Meanwhile, Congress is stressing the need to fill the leadership void, especially as air travel is expected to spike. During the first two weeks of April, more than 32 million travelers passed through TSA security checks—comparable to 2019 numbers. Experts are predicting an even busier summer season filled with ongoing flight disruptions from weather, staffing issues, and even technology-related problems. Impending issues have already prompted the FAA to ask airlines to cut down on flights into the New York region as the agency faces a shortage of air traffic controllers.

“This should be a wakeup call for the President and his administration to fill the FAA’s ever-increasing leadership vacuum with highly qualified people without any further delay, wrote Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Missouri) in a statement. “Our aviation system is under stress, and with Congress actively working to reauthorize the policies and programs of the FAA, it’s critical that these vital roles within the agency do not continue to go unfilled.”


New to Flying?


Already have an account?