FAA Administrator Steve Dickson Resigns, Cites Family Pressures

FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson, seen here speaking at the 2021 NBAA-BACE event. [File Photo Courtesy: NBAA]

FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson abruptly resigned from his post Wednesday evening, cutting short his five-year term by half.

Dickson, who has held the position as FAA chief since his confirmation in August 2019, cited distance from his family as a basis for the decision. 

"Over the past several years, my family has been a source of tremendous encouragement, strength and support," he said in a message to FAA employees. "Nevertheless, after sometimes long and unavoidable periods of separation from my loved ones during the pandemic, it is time to devote my full time and attention to them. As I wrote in my letter to President Biden, it is time to go home." 

Dickson said he was not pressured by the Biden Administration to resign, Reuters reported Thursday. "They asked me to stay," he said of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the White House.

A former airline pilot, Dickson worked for Delta Air Lines for nearly 30 years and retired from the company as head of flight operations prior to joining the FAA.

Dickson's resignation will be effective as of March 31, he said.

His confirmation in 2019 by the U.S. Senate as the next FAA administrator was a contentious process that included charges that the airline retaliated against a safety whistleblower while he was a top executive at Delta.

Dickson's tenure with the agency began months after two major accidents involving Boeing 737 Max aircraft claimed 346 lives, prompting demands for an overhaul of the FAA's relationship with Boeing in the certification and oversight process.

"When I came on board as FAA administrator almost two and half years ago now, the first thing I did was reset the relationship with Boeing,” Dickson told U.S. House lawmakers in October. “I have made it clear to them continually that we will continue to exercise a high level of scrutiny.”

Industry Reaction

As news of the resignation reverberated throughout the aviation industry Thursday, stakeholders and insiders described Dickson as a steadying, positive influence on the agency during a tumultuous period.

  • "Administrator Dickson had to deal with a remarkable number of crises, including the 737Max, 787, COVID, disruptive passengers, and 5G," said aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia, Managing Director of AeroDynamic Advisory. "He kept things steady through all of this, and helped restore the FAA’s relations with international regulators. It’s been a difficult period, but he’s leaving the agency in better shape."
  • "He has been a strong and effective leader, navigating the agency through numerous challenges with skill, courage and wisdom," General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) president and CEO Pete Bunce said in a statement. "His work and commitment to improve the safety, health, and strength of the U.S. and global aviation system has advanced the agency’s resiliency and credibility and built a stronger future framework for safety, innovation, sustainability, and growth.”  
  • Dickson "has been fully committed to the FAA's mission," Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) president and CEO Mark Baker said in a statement.  “We are proud at AOPA to have worked with Administrator Dickson on several important initiatives, which have kept the skies safe for our 300,000 members.”
  • "Administrator Dickson was instrumental to the survival of U.S. airlines during the most challenging time in our industry’s history—the global pandemic—which decimated commercial aviation," said Airlines for America president and CEO Nicholas Calio. "We are now moving toward recovery in no small part because he fostered a communicative working relationship with aviation stakeholders to directly address the unique challenges posed by the pandemic, prioritized our joint commitment to data-driven solutions, and worked collaboratively to protect the health and safety of airline crews and passengers."

“Steve has been the FAA’s steady and skilled captain, and his tenure has been marked by steadfast commitment to the FAA’s safety mission and the 45,000 employees who work tirelessly every day to fulfill it.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement
  • "Both the industry and the agency benefitted from his steady leadership during some of the most difficult situations facing aviation—overseeing certification reform following the 737 Max crashes and the process to safely integrate 5G into the NAS—throughout the most challenging pandemic times," National Air Transportation Association (NATA) president and CEO Timothy Obitts said in a statement. “Administrator Dickson’s commitment to continuous safety improvement, dedication to industry collaboration, and ability to instill confidence among consumers and the community will serve the agency well for years to come. Administrator Dickson advanced the cause of safety, was a friend to the industry, and understood the value of business aviation. He will be missed.”
  • "His leadership on critical issues including safety, innovation, workforce and sustainability will leave an enduring legacy," National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen said. "Dickson was instrumental in the development of SFAR [Special Federal Aviation Regulation] 118 and other initiatives to support the nation’s aviation industry during a critical period in the COVID-19 pandemic. His tenure at the FAA began in the wake of two fatal accidents involving the newly certified Boeing 737 MAX. As part of the agency’s approval for the airplane to return to service, Dickson personally flew the MAX to demonstrate its safety. His tenure has been defined by a drive to continually enhance the FAA’s safety culture."

His efforts to improve aviation safety were also cited by the top U.S. transportation official.

“Steve has been the FAA’s steady and skilled captain, and his tenure has been marked by steadfast commitment to the FAA’s safety mission and the 45,000 employees who work tirelessly every day to fulfill it,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. 

In a statement, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, thanked Dickson for his service, noting the two did not "see eye to eye."

"President Biden must now nominate a new leader committed to the highest standards of aviation safety, which means someone who will aggressively implement our landmark certification reform legislation, hold Boeing accountable for the tragic consequences of their decision to put profits over people when rolling out the 737 Max, and ensure the safe coexistence of 5G wireless service and aviation," DeFazio said.

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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