Weeks of speculation ended with confirmation on July 6 that Washington will indeed be named to lead the FAA, pending Senate confirmation. He would bring relatively little aviation experience to the job, having served roughly a year in the top job at Denver International, preceded by executive roles in Denver’s regional transit district, and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
A U.S. Army veteran who led the Biden administration’s transportation transition, Washington’s résumé includes no aviation experience prior to his appointment to lead Colorado’s largest airport. This is a departure from recent predecessors, all of whom had airline industry experience as pilots and executives: Daniel Elwell (appointed acting administrator in January 2018), Steve Dickson (who served from August 2019 until his resignation in March), and Billy Nolen (who was appointed to serve as acting FAA administrator upon Dickson’s departure).
The Seattle Times reported on the White House plan to nominate Washington in early June, and speculated that Washington’s background as a transportation leader without prior experience working for airlines or with other aviation stakeholders may be seen as an antidote to the perception that the FAA has been too cozy with those it regulates. The Transportation Department Office of Inspector General will audit FAA oversight of Boeing 737 and 787 production, Reuters noted, in a report on Washington’s nomination that also included a statement issued by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg: “Phil’s deep expertise in transportation, his service in the military, and his track record helping Americans safely get where they need to go, make him the right leader to help meet today’s aviation challenges and prepare for the future.”
Washington would also inherit headaches beyond aircraft certification audits, including the ongoing effort to fully enable 5G C-band wireless networks without compromising the safety of air transport aircraft (and others) that utilize radio altimeters, some of which are susceptible to C-band interference.
AOPA President Mark Baker expressed appreciation for Washington’s nomination. “We look forward to the confirmation process in the Senate,” Baker said. “This is an important leadership position, especially during a time of tremendous challenge and opportunity. We look forward to continuing to address the most pressing issues facing general aviation while ensuring our aviation system remains the safest and most robust in the world.”