Biden’s pick to lead FAA faces stormy confirmation hearing

Mar 1, 2023, 8:28 AM | Updated: 12:08 pm
FILE - A Federal Aviation Administration sign hangs in the tower at John F. Kennedy International A...

FILE - A Federal Aviation Administration sign hangs in the tower at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, March 16, 2017. Congress is taking up key aviation legislation just after close calls between planes at airports in New York and Texas. A House committee held the first hearing Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, on legislation that will govern the Federal Aviation Administration. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

President Joe Biden’s pick to run the Federal Aviation Administration finally got a hearing Wednesday on his nomination, with Democrats praising him as a skilled leader of large transportation bureaucracies while Republicans called him unqualified because of his relatively thin aviation experience.

If confirmed by the Senate, Phillip Washington would take over an agency dealing with safety concerns including several recent close calls between planes, understaffing that has contributed to flight delays, and the breakdown of a pilot-alert system that briefly stopped flights nationwide in January.

Washington told the Senate Commerce Committee that safety will be his top priority, and he will “leave the FAA better than I found it.”

Washington is a longtime transit official in Los Angeles and Denver who has served as CEO of Denver International Airport — the third-busiest in the world — since July 2021.

Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., called him “an experienced, mission-driven leader who has successfully led three of the largest and most complex transportation organizations in the country.”

Another Democrat, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, introduced Washington as someone with experience in turning around struggling bureaucracies.

“He takes on the big, complex problems and gets results,” said Hickenlooper. “He’s not an airline industry insider using this position as a revolving door for the industry to police itself.”

Republicans, however, seized on Washington’s short time in the aviation field. They noted that he is not a pilot, in contrast to some of his recent predecessors and the current acting administrator, Billy Nolen.

“He does not have any experience in aviation safety,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “This quite simply is a position he is not qualified for.”

Cruz discounted Washington’s job running the Denver airport, telling the nominee, “You are in charge of coffee shops, clothing stores and newsstands,” but not pilots, aircraft mechanics or air traffic controllers.

“He is the wrong choice to lead the FAA and restore America’s confidence in this struggling agency,” added Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

Other Republicans peppered Washington by reading detailed questions about aviation — such as the number of special-use airspace types, and what causes a plane to stall — which he was mostly unable to answer.

Republicans also highlighted Washington’s involvement in an investigation into corruption at the Los Angeles transit agency that he ran for six years. Washington’s name appeared in a search warrant, but he said no law enforcement agencies have contacted him about the matter.

Republicans also brought up a new lawsuit that accuses Washington and other Denver officials with pushing an airport director who is Hispanic out of his job after he complained that white co-workers were paid more.

Hawaii Democrat Brian Schatz said the Republican attacks were unfounded and irrelevant.

“This is a hatchet job,” he said.

Biden originally nominated Washington in early July 2022, but he failed to get a hearing even though Democrats controlled the Senate. The president re-nominated him in January — choosing the man who led Biden’s transition team for the Transportation Department, the FAA’s parent agency, after the 2020 election.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer vowed “to break this logjam” and clear the way for Washington’s confirmation.

The FAA has been led by acting administrator Nolen since former President Donald Trump’s choice, former pilot and Delta Air Lines executive Stephen Dickson, stepped down last March in the middle of his five-year term.

Washington was CEO of the Los Angeles County bus and rail transit authority, Metro, for six years before taking the Denver airport job. He was also a longtime executive at the Denver transportation district, including serving as CEO from 2009 to 2015. He served in the U.S. Army for 24 years, which Republicans say means he needs a waiver from Congress to run the civilian FAA.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


(Facebook Photo/Superior Court of Arizona in Yavapai County)...
Associated Press

Arizona judge has cases reassigned following DUI arrest

The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that all cases currently assigned to a Yavapai County Superior Court judge recently arrested on suspicion of extreme DUI will be reassigned to other judges.
1 day ago
Haitian migrant Gerson Solay, 28, carries his daughter, Bianca, as he and his family cross into Can...
Associated Press

US, Canada to end loophole that allows asylum-seekers to move between countries

President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday announced a plan to close a loophole to an immigration agreement.
4 days ago
Expert skateboarder Di'Orr Greenwood, an artist born and raised in the Navajo Nation in Arizona and...
Associated Press

Indigenous skateboard art featured on new stamps unveiled at Phoenix skate park

The Postal Service unveiled the “Art of the Skateboard" stamps at a Phoenix skate park, featuring designs from Indigenous artists.
4 days ago
(Facebook Photo/City of San Luis, Arizona)...
Associated Press

San Luis authorities receive complaints about 911 calls going across border

Authorities in San Luis say they are receiving more complaints about 911 calls mistakenly going across the border.
10 days ago
(Pexels Photo)...
Associated Press

Daylight saving time begins in most of US this weekend

No time change is observed in Hawaii, most of Arizona, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas.
18 days ago
Mexican army soldiers prepare a search mission for four U.S. citizens kidnapped by gunmen in Matamo...
Associated Press

How the 4 abducted Americans in Mexico were located

The anonymous tip that led Mexican authorities to a remote shack where four abducted Americans were held described armed men and blindfolds.
18 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

Celebrate 50 years of Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade magic!

Since its first production in the early 1970s, the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe has been a staple of Valley traditions, bringing family fun and excitement to downtown Phoenix.
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
Biden’s pick to lead FAA faces stormy confirmation hearing