Alaska Republican Senator Dan Sullivan warned that President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) might not be up to the task.
Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Sullivan questioned Biden’s choice of Phil Washington at a time when the country has experienced numerous transportation-related accidents and aviation “near misses.” The Alaska senator called for a “qualified head for the FAA.”
“Americans take for granted that their aviation safety, flying in America, is the safest place to do it in the world,” Sullivan told host George Stephanopoulos. “But from my perspective, these are huge warning signs that you’re talking about, what we’ve been talking about. I think it’s been six near-misses in the last two months.”
GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan tells @GStephanopoulos that Pres. Biden’s nominee to lead the FAA “doesn’t have a lot of experience with regard to aviation safety.”
“We need a qualified head of the FAA. We need to be on this on safety now.” https://t.co/gnbo5ESGEh pic.twitter.com/JEwldBfsUs
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) March 5, 2023
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a confirmation hearing for Washington last Wednesday. Many Republicans tore into the nominee for what they claim is a lack of experience. North Carolina Republican Senator Ted Budd said, “The FAA can’t afford to be led by someone who needs on-the-job training.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) argued Washington’s “record is woefully lacking,” adding, “in fact, you have zero aviation safety experience.” Sullivan echoed those sentiments on Sunday, saying it was a “tough hearing” for Washington, who “doesn’t have a lot of experience with regard to aviation safety.”
“As a military veteran and leader of three large transportation organizations, my broad transportation safety knowledge and real world leadership experiences provide me a unique perspective on how aviation on all modes of transportation should integrate into a seamless system,” Washington said of his qualifications.
Washington, the current CEO of Denver International Airport and former CEO of the Los Angeles Metro Transit Authority, was nominated by Biden last July but did not receive a hearing at the time. His nomination was resubmitted in January, but the position hasn’t had a permanent administrator in nearly a year. Stephanopoulos asked Sullivan if the vacancy has had an impact on aviation safety, to which the senator replied, “Absolutely it has.”
Last Monday, a JetBlue plane and a Learjet aircraft nearly collided at Boston’s Logan Airport, prompting the FAA to investigate the “close call.” That was the sixth near-miss this year in the United States, according to CBS News. On January 23 at the Honolulu airport, a United Airlines plane reportedly improperly crossed a runway as a Cessna plane was landing. In mid-January, two JetBlue planes bumped each other at New York’s JFK Airport. Similar near-misses occurred at Newark Airport, Austin-Bergstrom Airport, and Hollywood Burbank Airport. Beyond the near misses, the aviation industry has faced staffing shortages and technological issues that caused the FAA to ground all flights in early January.
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Sullivan said that in response to these problems, the FAA must update infrastructure and technology. “What we don’t want to have happen is some kind of airplane disaster and then Congress is then writing legislation to deal with it after,” the senator said. “You know, good governance is about proactively getting in front of these issues before they happen, not waiting.”