Former Delta Air Lines executive Stephen Dickson has been confirmed as the new head of the US Federal Aviation Administration at a time the agency is facing intense scrutiny over the 737 MAX.
The US Senate split along party lines to produce a 52-40 vote in favor of Dickson and give the FAA its first permanent head for more than 18 months.
Dickson was US President Donald Trump’s pick for the job and his nomination became embroiled in a controversy over allegations he retaliated while at Delta against a pilot who raised safety concerns about inadequate training and overworked pilots.
Delta had the pilot examined by a psychiatrist who diagnosed bipolar disorder and saw her banned from flying.
The diagnosis was overturned by two other psychiatrists and an FAA investigation subsequently found some violations by the airline.
The pilot applied for damages of more than $US1 million but Dickson did not mention the case in a questionnaire submitted as part of his application for the administrator’s job.
Nonetheless, Dickson appears to have support as he inherits an agency facing questions about its certification processes and relationship with Boeing.
He retired as Delta’s senior vice president of flight operations after a 27-year career at the airline.
A graduate of the US Air Force Academy, he was an F-15 fighter pilot before becoming a commercial pilot for Delta.
Delta chief executive Ed Bastian in 2018 described Dickson as “a long-time, respected and admired Delta leader who has provided steady, thoughtful and impactful leadership in both good and bad times”.
Former Obama-era FAA administrator Michael Huerta described Dickson as someone who was passionate about safety and had a deep understanding of the needs of the aviation industry and the traveling public.
US industry groups welcomed the confirmation.
Airlines for America chief executive Nicholas Calio said Dickson was uniquely qualified to serve as FAA head.
“He has the vision, knowledge and experience to lead the FAA at this crucial time for the agency and for commercial aviation, an industry that drives five percent of U.S. GDP and more than 10 million U.S. jobs, he said.
Non-profit industry coalition Alliance for Aviation Across America also noted Dickson’s extensive experience in the aviation industry as well as his military service.
“We look forward to working with him and other stakeholders to ensure that we support all segments of aviation, and keep passengers flying safely and efficiently,” it said