Michael Whitaker knows aviation.
That was the reaction of many throughout the aviation community Thursday when President Joe Biden officially nominated the former FAA deputy administrator with more than 30 years of aviation management experience as the agency’s top official.
The FAA has been without an administrator since March 2022, when Steve Dickson resigned.
After weeks of rumor, the Biden Administration announced Thursday that Whitaker, who is currently the chief operating officer of Supernal, a company designing an electric advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicle, had been officially nominated to serve as FAA administrator.
“Whitaker served as Deputy Administrator at the FAA from 2013–2016. There, he brought industry and government together to drive the successful transition of the nation’s air traffic control system from radar to a satellite-enabled surveillance technology (ABS-B),” the White House said in a statement. “Prior to Supernal and his tenure at the FAA, Whitaker served as Group CEO of InterGlobe Enterprises, India’s largest travel conglomerate and operator of its largest and most successful airline, IndiGo.”
He also spent 15 years in management at United Airlines.
“His broad portfolio at the airline included commercial alliances and joint ventures, international and regulatory affairs, and strategic counsel to the Chairman and CEO on international matters,” the White House said. “He is a private pilot and holds a juris doctorate degree from Georgetown University Law Center. He serves on the board of the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes aviation safety globally.”
Biden’s former nominee, Phil Washington, withdrew his name in late March after failing to receive a committee hearing for eight months as several lawmakers raised concerns about his lack of aviation experience.
“The FAA, the civil aviation industry, and the American flying-public deserve a leader with experience in managing large organizations and an aviation background to develop an aviation system that is safer, more efficient and technologically advanced,” Pete Bunce, General Aviation Manufacturers Association president and CEO, said in a statement Thursday morning.
“Having worked with Mr. Whitaker in his previous role as FAA Deputy Administrator, we are confident that his intimate knowledge of how the agency functions and interfaces with the Department of Transportation, Congress, and the industry will improve his ability to navigate the challenges now facing the FAA,” Bunce added.
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) leadership called on the Senate to confirm Whitaker as soon as possible.
“The aviation industry has had a significant need for a permanent leader for more than a year, and I am happy that Michael has been nominated for the role,” AOPA president Mark Baker said in a statement. “Our close collaboration during his time as deputy administrator gave us the unmistakable sense that Michael knows aviation, he understands how the FAA operates, and he appreciates GA’s needs as a private pilot.”
Whitaker’s experience with NextGen airspace modernization will be “essential” in leading the agency in the days ahead, according to James Viola, Helicopter Association International president and CEO.
“Vertical aviation is leading the future with advanced helicopter technology, electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) operations, and continued innovation across the vertical flight sector,” Viola said. “As our industry moves forward, it is critical that the United States has strong leadership at the FAA to provide global regulatory guidance while continuing to set the gold standard in safety.”