The U.S. Senate today confirmed President Biden’s pick for a new FAA Administrator, Mike Whitaker, in a unanimous bipartisan vote of 98-0.
In welcome news for the aviation industry, Mike Whitaker has been confirmed as the next FAA Administrator. After a unanimous vote to invoke cloture (moving directly to a vote, without debate) Whitaker was confirmed. Whitaker will replace acting administrator Polly Trottenberg, whose tenure will expire tomorrow, October 25. It has been 18 months since the last confirmed FAA Administrator, Steve Dickson, left the post mid-way through his appointment.
Mike Whitaker was formerly the Deputy Administrator of the FAA, appointed by President Obama in 2013 and serving until 2016. He was most recently the Cheif Commercial Officer for Supernal, a Hyundai company developing an eVTOL advanced air mobility vehicle.
Prior to his work at the FAA, Whitaker served as an attorney for TWA and as SVP of Alliances, International and Regulatory Affairs at United Airlines. He was then Group CEO at InterGlobe, a large international travel conglomerate. Whitaker holds a private pilot certificate.
While at the FAA, Whitaker was responsible for NextGen, a wide variety of programs designed to update national aviation systems. The Senate Commerce, Science and Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing on Whitaker’s nomination Wednesday, October 4. At that hearing, Senator Maria Cantwell highlighted Mr. Whitaker’s proven experience taking on serious challenges at FAA, including NextGen implementation. “I think you were at the beginning of a very big transformation. And yet, we have more transformation to do. So, I think you’re the guy with the experience of that NextGen implementation that gives you the depth and breadth of how big a challenge can be,” she said.
During the hearing, Whitaker was asked how he would build a resilient safety culture at the FAA. “[We] need to build a strong leadership team, make sure we have the right people in the right positions, and make sure they’re permanent. And we need a strong bench.” said Whitaker. “Safety culture doesn’t create itself… We have to hold the line on pressure to reduce standards and make sure we’re keeping the system as safe as possible.”
Republican Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a ranking member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation, was the first to issue a statement:
“After more than 550 days without a permanent leader at the FAA, confirming Mr. Whitaker to be administrator is a welcome and significant step towards resolving persistent challenges at the FAA,” said Sen. Moran. “I congratulate Mr. Whitaker on his confirmation, and I look forward to working with Mr. Whitaker to ensure the FAA has the resources needed to promote safety and innovation within the nation’s airspace system.”
The nomination of a long term FAA Administrator was also applauded by stakeholders in the drone industry. The Commercial Drone Alliance, immediately issued a statement in support of Whitaker’s confirmation. “The Commercial Drone Alliance congratulates Michael Whitaker on his bipartisan confirmation by the U.S. Senate as FAA Administrator. The dedicated professionals at the FAA and the entire aviation industry deserve the continuity and consistency that a Senate-confirmed leader provides,” says Lisa Ellman, Executive Director. “We look forward to working with Mr. Whitaker to address long-overdue advanced aviation regulatory matters, such as enabling beyond visual line of sight drone operations. Only then can the U.S. fully realize the significant societal benefits of commercial drones and regain its position as a global leader in advanced aviation.”
The Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International, AUVSI, also voiced their support of the confirmation, with a statement from President and CEO Brian Wynne. “The U.S. has long been the global leader in aviation—but in recent years, the segment where the U.S. has not led is in the integration of new entrants into the national airspace system,” stated Wynne. “AUVSI is promoting domestic aviation innovation to enhance U.S. aviation leadership and bring significant benefits to American communities. We look forward to working with Administrator Whitaker and the FAA to support a 21st century regulatory framework that enables routine, scalable and secure drone and Advanced Air Mobility operations.”
The position of FAA Administrator is a 5 year appointment.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.