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Federal Aviation Administration Announces New Administrator, Stephen M. Dickson

BY Isabella Lee
20 August 2019

Captain Stephen M. Dickson has been announced as the new Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. The U.S. Senate made the long-awaited decision 19 months after the previous administrator, Michael Huerta, completed his five-year term in January of 2018.

faa administrator stephen dickson

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Dickson is a former Delta pilot and executive with nearly 40 years of experience.

“I am honored to join the outstanding team at the Federal Aviation Administration and look forward to ensuring our aviation system maintains its proper place, leading the world in both safety and operational performance,” said Captain Dickson.

Drone Community Thanks Acting Administrator Dan Elwell for His Leadership

In the interim, prior to Dickson’s election, FAA Deputy Administrator Dan Elwell stepped up to lead the FAA as Acting Administrator.

During Elwell’s time of service, a bill was introduced to Congress to reauthorize the FAA for five years. The bill was passed and made law as the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, providing funding and directives for the agency to see through in the coming years. The bill included several provisions affecting the UAS industry including a directive to compose a plan to establish an unmanned air traffic management system.

Under Elwell’s leadership, the FAA also published a notice of proposed rulemaking that would allow certified drone operators to fly over people and at night, under certain circumstances, without a waiver.

In a statement, the Small UAV Coalition thanked Elwell for his service and leadership and stated that they look forward to continuing to work with the FAA as it develops a regulatory framework for expanded commercial UAS operations.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao also expressed her gratitude to Elwell.

I’m grateful for Acting Administrator Dan Elwell’s steady and principled leadership during an especially challenging time in the FAA’s history.

—Secretary Chao

It has been a challenging time for aviation. Dickson steps into the Administrator role shortly after two deadly crashes forced the grounding of all Boeing 737 Max airplanes.

“At this moment, an entire fleet of U.S.-made aircraft is grounded due to two tragic accidents overseas. My heart goes out to the families of those who perished in Indonesia and Ethiopia. I want to again be clear: FAA is a safety-driven organization and safety is my highest priority. This plane will not fly in commercial service until I am completely assured that it is safe to do so,” stated Dickson in his swearing-in remarks.

Elwell will serve as FAA Deputy Administrator upon Administrator Dickson assuming office.

Dickson Brings Lengthy History of Military, Aviation, and Leadership Experience to the FAA

As FAA Administrator, Dickson will lead an agency responsible for the safety and efficiency of the largest aerospace system in the world — a system that operates more than 50,000 flights per day. He will oversee a $16.4 billion-dollar budget, more than 47,000 employees, and focus on ensuring the agency and its employees are the best prepared and trained professionals to meet the growing demands and requirements of the industry.

Dickson recently retired from service as the Senior Vice President-Flight Operations for Delta Air Lines. In this role, he was responsible for the safety and operational performance of Delta’s global flight operations, as well as pilot training, crew resources, crew scheduling, and regulatory compliance. He also flew in line operations as an A320 captain, and previously flew the B727, B737, B757, and B767 during his career.

Dickson is a strong advocate for commercial aviation safety and improvements to the National Airspace System, having served as chairman of several industry stakeholder groups and Federal advisory committees. A former United States Air Force Officer and F-15 fighter pilot, Dickson is a Distinguished Graduate of the Class of 1979 at the United States Air Force Academy, as well as a graduate of the Georgia State University College of Law, magna cum laude.

Although Dickson’s experience and qualifications align him with the role of Administrator, his nomination was not unanimously supported. Dickson was chosen in a partisan, 52-to-40 vote, with no Democratic support.

Resistance to his nomination stemmed over allegations that he was involved in the retaliation against a safety whistleblower at Delta. The pilot, Karlene Petitt, reported concerns about pilot training, fatigue, and other matters to Dickson and another executive. In response, Petitt was ordered to undergo a psychiatric exam, from which she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and grounded from flying for 18 months.

Dickson will Oversee the Future of the UAS Industry

Dickson steps up to the plate at a volatile time for the aviation industry, as the airspace becomes more complex.

Nowhere else in the world sees the volume, complexity, and pace of innovation that we have in America. Maintaining the highest levels of safety while adapting to technological advancements will be a key part of our success. I am honored to be able to help write the next chapter in the history of the FAA.

—Captain Stephen Dickson, Administrator of the FAA

The FAA is scheduled to finalize its notice of proposed rulemaking for remote identification, this September, as well as to secure early unmanned traffic management (UTM) system implementation, as provided for by the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.

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