US FAA Safety Officer Billy Nolen Appointed as Rights Administrator

An American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 flight from Los Angeles lands at Reagan National Airport shortly after the FAA announced that the planes were being landed by the United States in Washington, March 13, 2019.

Joshua Roberts | Reuters

The Biden administration on Saturday appointed the head of safety of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as the agency’s acting leader effective Friday.

Billy Nolen, who was appointed last December as the FAA’s aviation safety-related administrator, previously served as WestJet’s vice president of safety, security and quality in Canada.

Nolen, who started his career as a American Airlines pilot, will replace FAA administrator Steve Dickson, who is stepping down on March 31, until the White House nominates a permanent successor.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said: “Billy Nolen has extensive aviation expertise and a deep understanding of the important role the FAA plays in ensuring the safety of the traveling public.

Nolen leads a team of more than 7,600 FAA employees. FAA safety efforts and surveillance Boeing caught fire after two fatal crashes of the 737 MAX within five months that killed 346 people and resulted in a 20-month grounding. Congress in December 2020 passed legislation reforming how the FAA certifies new aircraft and assigns some duties to manufacturers like Boeing.

Dickson, 64, will resign about half of his five-year term. The Biden administration “is conducting a nationwide search to find a nominee to be the permanent administrator of the FAA,” the FAA said Saturday.

Dickson headed the FAA as it oversaw a comprehensive assessment of the Boeing 737 MAX that was subsequently grounded. He took a hard line, warning in late 2019 that Boeing was pursuing “an unrealistic return to service schedule.”

Earlier this week, the FAA warned Boeing may not achieve certification of the stretched version of the 737 Max before a critical safety deadline set by Congress and also sought updates on progress for both the 737 Max. 10 and 777-9, Reuters reported on Friday.

The FAA is still scrutinizing a number of issues related to Boeing and last month said it would not allow Boeing to self-certify 787 Dreamliners.

Nolen will face the headache of 5G wireless deployment using C-Band spectrum, an issue that has caused major international airlines to scramble to cancel some US flights amid warnings. The network can interfere with sensitive avionics. Nolen has been in discussions with aviation and telecommunications industry officials.

The FAA also said Saturday that FAA Deputy Director Bradley Mims “will also take on an expanded role during this interim period, focusing on the FAA workforce and the nation’s airports.”

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