Polly Trottenberg, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), is expected to be named the next interim head of the FAA, according to news agency Reuters.
Trottenberg would be replacing current acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen, and several sources say his departure from the agency could be as early as this week. Nolen will still have close ties to the industry as he plans to join eVTOL startup Archer Aviation.
In an email to FLYING, the FAA noted, “Billy Nolen is departing the FAA in the coming weeks and is continuing to ensure a smooth transition at the agency. Nolen will abide by the agency’s strict ethical requirements during the transition.”
Trottenberg has experience in the public sector, having served as New York City’s transportation commissioner from 2014 to 2020. She also served as a senior policy official for the DOT during the Barack Obama administration and aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
But unlike Nolen, Trottenberg has no apparent aviation experience—something that could be a significant challenge as the aviation industry faces a myriad of issues, such as staffing shortages, outdated technology, and safety concerns. Of specific note, inadequate FAA staffing and bureaucratic friction has slowed a number of key processes affecting general aviation, including the certification of aircraft and other equipment, as well as implementing new technology.
While Trottenberg is expected to be named the interim FAA leader, Reuters’ report clarified that her appointment is not certain and the situation could still change.
The FAA has been without a Senate-confirmed permanent leader since Steve Dickson, appointed by President Donald Trump, stepped down in 2022. The White House’s pick to head the agency, Phil Washington, failed to garner enough support from Republican leaders and withdrew his nomination in March.
Trottenberg’s appointment would also come as summer air travel is booming and airlines are anticipating flying roughly 4.35 billion passengers this year. According to Transportation Security Administration data, the recent Memorial Day holiday saw 9.8 million passengers screened over the four-day weekend—roughly 300,000 more than the same period in 2019.
The strong travel demand has pressured the FAA to make changes to avoid flight disruptions, including launching new flight routes to mitigate congestion. The agency is also working to hire more air traffic controllers since it is currently understaffed by about 3,000.
The recent changes to ease flight disruptions seem to have played out well during Memorial Day Weekend. According to FlightAware, airlines canceled fewer than 1 percent of flights each day between Thursday and Sunday, while fewer than one-fifth of flights arrived late. Good weather played a key role in the lack of delays, the flight-tracking company said.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeted, “Low levels of delays and cancellations over the holiday weekend are evidence that sector-wide collaboration to improve airline reliability is on the right track.”