Business News/ News / World/  Biden's pick to head FAA withdraws nomination after Republican attacks

US President Joe Biden's nominee to head the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is withdrawing his nomination after Republican criticism that he was not qualified to serve as the top aviation regulator, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Saturday.

Last year, Biden nominated Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington to serve as FAA administrator.

The agency has faced questions in recent months after a series of close-call safety incidents and the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this week delayed a vote on his nomination citing outstanding questions by some lawmakers. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a committee Democrat, had not announced whether she would support him and Senator Jon Tester also was still considering how to vote, a spokeswoman said this week.

One of the sources, a White House official, told Reuters that "an onslaught of unfounded Republican attacks on Mr Washington’s service and experience irresponsibly delayed this process, threatened unnecessary procedural hurdles on the Senate floor, and ultimately have led him to withdraw his nomination today."

A spokeperson for Denver International Airport, where Washington is CEO, did not immediately comment.

Senator Ted Cruz, ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, and other Republicans had said Washington, who retired from the U.S. Army in July 2000, must have a waiver from rules requiring civilian leadership to head the FAA. The Transportation Department's general counsel said in a letter this month that Washington was fully qualified and did not need a waiver.

Cruz's office did not immediately comment but Cruz noted Washington has only about two years of experience as an airline CEO. Cruz criticized Washington's inability to answer some aviation questions at his confirmation hearing arguing he was "objectively, indisputably unqualified to lead the FAA."

The White House insisted Washington was fully qualified. Cantwell had said he would shakeup the agency saying "we feel that industry and FAA got too cozy."

The White House official added "politics must not hold up confirming an Administrator to lead the FAA, and we will move expeditiously to nominate a new candidate for FAA administrator."

Washington was originally nominated in July but did not get a hearing from the Commerce Committee until March 1.

The FAA has had a number of recent safety issues.

In January, the FAA halted all departing passenger airline flights for nearly two hours because of a pilot messaging database outage, the first nationwide ground stop of its kind since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

On Wednesday, the FAA issued a safety alert to airlines, pilots and others about the "need for continued vigilance and attention to mitigation of safety risks" after a series of high-profile near collisions.

Six serious runway incursions have occurred since January that prompted the agency to convene a safety summit last week.

Some industry officials think the White House could name acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen as a new nominee. Nolen, who was named head of the FAA's aviation safety office, has been the acting FAA administrator since April 2022 and has received backing from many Republicans in Congress.

Washington had won support from a wide range of groups, including a number of aviation unions and a group of family members of some killed in a 2019 fatal Boeing 737 MAX crash.

The FAA has been without a permanent administrator for almost a year.

This would be the second major Bide nominee to withdraw in recent weeks. Gigi Sohn, his pick for a key fifth seat on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), withdrew dealing a setback for Democrats who have been unable to take control of the telecom regulator for more than two years. 

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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Updated: 26 Mar 2023, 08:12 AM IST
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