Senate Grills FAA Nominee on Boeing 737 Max Issues

Former Delta executive Steve Dickson's path to confirmation as the next FAA Administrator is expected to be a smooth one despite pointed questions from senators.

Steve Dickson
Former Delta Air Lines executive Steve Dickson was nominated as the next FAA Administrator by President Trump in March.Courtesy Delta Air Lines

Former Delta Air Lines executive Steve Dickson faced heated questions in the Senate on Wednesday about whether regulators could have done more to prevent two fatal crashes of Boeing 737 Max jets.

Dickson, who was senior vice president of flight operations at Delta until his retirement last October and a former F-15 fighter pilot, is President Donald Trump's nominee to head the FAA. Under questioning from senators, he pledged to look into issues ranging from the FAA's "delegation" of some of its oversight to the companies it regulates to pilots' manual flying skills when automation fails.

The hearing in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation came after President Donald Trump in March announced the nomination of Dickson to a five-year term as FAA Administrator.

Senators praised Dickson’s extensive experience in aviation, but also asked pointed questions about how he will handle the challenges the FAA faces.

“Bureaucratic inertia is powerful,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during the hearing. “What I’m asking you to do, if confirmed, is be pissed off that 346 people died.”

Dickson asked Cruz not to mistake his calm demeanor for satisfaction “or saying that any accident is acceptable — it is not.”

Despite the pointed questioning during the hearings, Dickson is widely expected to be confirmed as the next FAA Administrator as aviation groups strongly supported his appointment.

General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) president and CEO Pete Bunce praised Dickson for his strong leadership abilities, particularly with regard to advancing the FAA’s NextGen programs.

“I have known Steve for more than 40 years and am deeply familiar with his demonstrative leadership in aviation, both as an Air Force fighter pilot and as a senior executive at Delta Air Lines,” Bunce said. “GAMA members also deeply value the contributions Steve has made to advancing air traffic modernization through his roles as chairman of the NextGen Implementation Task Force and as industry co-chair of the RTCA NextGen Advisory Committee Working Subcommittee.”