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Friday, January 27, 2023

FAA’s Steve Dickson Announces Resignation Midway Through a Demanding Tenure

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Steve Dickson has announced his resignation effective March 31, 2022. Dickson was sworn in as the FAA administrator for a five-year term on August 12, 2019, after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Before coming to the FAA , Dickson spent nearly three decades at Delta Air Lines, retiring as the senior vice president of flight operations. In this role, he was responsible for the safety and operational performance of global flight operations, as well as pilot training, crew resources, crew scheduling, and regulatory compliance. During his career, he flew the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 727, 737, 757, and 767. Captain Dickson previously served as chairman of several industry stakeholder groups and federal advisory committees.

In a letter to staff, Dickson said he was leaving to spend more time with his family who are based in Georgia. “It is time to go home,” he said.

In 2018 and 2019, the crashes of two 737 MAX aircraft resulted in the deaths of 346 people and grounded the aircraft. Dickson oversaw the return to service of the 737 MAX in late 2020, later than Boeing executives had estimated, having first flown the plane himself saying he wouldn’t clear the MAX for service unless he flew it. However, questions remain over the FAA’s oversight of Boeing regarding issues with the 737 MAX.

“While Administrator Dickson and I didn’t always see eye to eye, I thank him for his dedicated service to our country during such a challenging time for aviation,” said Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) on February 17.  “President Biden must now nominate a new leader committed to the highest standards of aviation safety, which means someone who will aggressively implement our landmark certification reform legislation, hold Boeing accountable for the tragic consequences of their decision to put profits over people when rolling out the 737 MAX and ensure the safe coexistence of 5G wireless service and aviation.”

On February 15, DeFazio and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA) requested the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (DOT OIG) review the FAA’s oversight of Boeing’s apparent misconduct regarding Boeing’s 737 MAX. 

The Chairs’ request came after they said the FAA failed to provide an adequate response to their November 2021 letter with Congressman Greg Stanton (D-AZ) seeking answers from the agency on the apparent lack of Boeing accountability for longstanding issues with the 737 MAX.  

In addition to concerns over the FAA’s 737 MAX response, the impact of the 5G launch on aviation has been another high profile area under Dickson’s watch. Recent weeks have seen a good deal of work between the FAA and the 5G providers to create more areas where both 5G and aviation can operate safely. However questions have been asked over the timeliness of the FAA’s response and preparation for 5G. At a recent hearing, Dickson said the FAA does not regulate the telecommunication companies and therefore did not have the data needed until able to work with them directly.

Like other agency chiefs, Dickson has also had the coronavirus pandemic to contend with – and aviation has been severely impacted by the virus and subsequent travel restrictions and passenger health and safety measures.

Under Dickson’s leadership, the FAA has seen record numbers of unruly passengers, with incidents often sparked by a refusal to comply with mask requirements. Dickson introduced the Faa’s zero tolerance policy for unruly passengers in January 2021. Under the policy, the FAA skips its previous warnings or counseling for unruly passengers and goes directly to legal penalties.

It certainly has not been an easy tenure.

The FAA’s Deputy Administrator is Bradley Mims, who assumed his current position in February 2021. Mims has served as a transportation professional in government and the private sector for over 40 years. In addition to working for a number of firms and organizations related to transportation/aviation, Mims served as the head of government relations for the FAA during the Clinton Administration. Prior to his appointment at the FAA, Mims served as the President/CEO of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials from 2016-2021.

Read Steve Dickson’s resignation letter at the FAA

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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