Biden Names Safety Chief Nolen Acting FAA Administrator

On Saturday, March 26, the Biden Administration announced that Billy Nolen has been named Acting Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, now that the resignation of Steve Dickson from the post has become effective. Nolen is the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety.

The FAA’s organic statute (49 U.S.C. §106) provides that, “The Deputy Administrator acts for the Administrator when the Administrator is absent or unable to serve, or when the office of the Administrator is vacant,” and the Deputy Administrator is Bradley Mims. But the Vacancies Reform Act trumps the FAA’s organic statute and allows the President to appoint others in an acting capacity, and it was apparently decided that, since Nolen had much more safety-related experience than Mims, it was better to have him in the lead role in case another accident happens.

Per his agency bio, Nolen “has over 33 years of experience in operations and corporate safety, regulatory affairs and flight operations. He started his career as a 767, 757 and MD-80 pilot with American Airlines. His passion for operations and safety led to the role of Manager of the Pilot Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP). He then became Manager of Flight Safety with responsibility for Accident/Incident Investigations, Flight Operational Quality Assurance, Line Operations Safety Audits, and oversight of the Pilot and Maintenance ASAPs.

“After American Airlines, Billy served as Senior Vice President of Safety, Security and Operations with Airlines for America, where he collaborated with leaders across the airline industry, government and other key stakeholders to enhance safety and operational performance.”

Since then, he has worked for Qantas (famous as the safest airline in history), and later at WestJet as Vice President of Safety, Security and Quality.

Nolen is a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where he earned a BS degree in Aviation Management.

It is unclear whether or not Nolen will wind up being the Administration’s nominee for a full five-year term running the FAA (though one would have to assume he is a candidate). Reminder: President Biden still has to make a nominee to run the Federal Highway Administration (the only DOT operating mode with more money than FAA). And, in addition, the bipartisan infrastructure law created two additional Assistant Secretary of Transportation posts that need to be filled, one (Assistant Secretary for Multimodal Freight Policy) which requires Senate confirmation and one (Assistant Secretary for Tribal Governmental Affairs) which does not.


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