FAA Administrator Nominee Pushes Back Against Accusations

Dickson claims whistleblower’s behavior warranted action.

Steve Dickson
It's unclear at this point precisely when Dickson's confirmation vote will take place.Courtesy Delta Air Lines

Steve Dickson, President Trump's nominee to head the FAA, last week fired back in the controversy over his yet-to-be-confirmed agency job. Trump nominated Dickson in March, but the confirmation process ran into a headwind in mid-June after a Delta pilot took issue over Dickson's role in a 2016 whistleblower complaint while he was still serving as Delta Air Lines senior vice president of flight operations.

Politico reported, “In a new document filed with the Senate Commerce Committee, Dickson’s written answers said he, ‘still thinks it was the right call to have a whistleblower who had reported safety concerns at Delta [to] undergo a psychiatric evaluation.’" The Delta pilot, Karlene Petitt, sued Delta in a pending Department of Labor administrative action claiming the airline retaliated against her following a pilot fatigue concern she raised to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Petitt, who holds a Ph.D. in aviation, said that after filing her report, the airline sent her to a Delta-hired psychiatrist for an examination that claimed the pilot suffered from bipolar disorder, a medically disqualifying condition for a cockpit crewmember. That action took Petitt out of the cockpit for more than a year and a half. Subsequent psychiatric examinations concluded Petitt did not suffer from bipolar disorder and she was subsequently returned to flying status.

Dickson said Petitt’s statements and behavior, "raised legitimate questions about her fitness to fly." He also responded to a question about why he didn't disclose the incident before his confirmation hearing, saying he interpreted a committee questionnaire as being about his "personal conduct, my behavior both in general and as an officer of a large public company, or any instance in which I was a named party to a proceeding." Lee Seham, a lawyer representing Petitt sent an email to Politico saying Dickson was more involved in what happened to his client than his responses indicated.

Senate Commerce Committee chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wants to move ahead with the nomination, but it’s unclear at the moment if the nominee’s responses will sooth Democratic concerns that reported inconsistencies with Dickson’s answers.