White House

Former Delta pilot named to lead FAA as Chao seeks Max 8 audit

The agency faces questions about its handling of the Boeing 737 Max plane, involved in two catastrophic crashes

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is escorted into her chair by R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, before a Senate Environment and Public Works Senate Committee in Dirksen Building titled “The Administration’s Framework for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America” on March 01, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Delta Air Lines executive and pilot Stephen M. Dickson was nominated Tuesday to take over as administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, an agency facing questions about its handling of the Boeing 737 Max plane involved in two catastrophic overseas crashes.

Also on Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said she had asked the department’s inspector general to conduct a formal audit of the certification process for the 737 Max 8.

The audit, Chao said in a memo, would provide “an objective and detailed factual history of the activities that resulted in the certification.”

[FAA: New data led to grounding of 737 Max jets]

Dickson recently retired as senior vice president for flight operations at Delta, a post that made him responsible for operational performance of the airline’s fleet, pilot training and regulatory compliance, the White House said.

His career also included serving as captain of a crew flying an A320, and he flew in Boeing 727, 737 and 767 jets. An Air Force Academy graduate, Dickson was also an F-15 fighter pilot.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi congratulated Dickson, saying in a news release they served together on the FAA’s Management Advisory Committee.

“Throughout his career, Steve has been a staunch advocate for aviation safety,” Rinaldi said.

The nomination comes as House and Senate committees are planning hearings into the FAA decision-making regarding the Boeing 737 Max, a plane Delta does not fly.

President Donald Trump announced last Wednesday — days after other nations and airlines had already done so — that the FAA was ordering all 737 Max 8 and 9 jets grounded.

Acting FAA Administrator Daniel K. Elwell said the decision was based on satellite tracking and evidence found on the ground connecting the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet with an Oct. 29 crash of a Lion Air flight in Indonesia.

The Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed six minutes after takeoff and killed 189 people. The Lion Air flight crashed 13 minutes after takeoff, killing 157. Both flights showed a pattern of climbing and diving, and attention focused on a system in the 737 Max designed to prevent stalls by forcing the nose downward.

A day before the FAA grounded the plane, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Roger Wicker said he would hold a hearing on aviation safety.

“We must never become complacent about the level of safety in our system,“ the Mississippi Republican said in a news release.

After the planes were ordered grounded, Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, said in a news release the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would investigate FAA’s actions in allowing it to fly.

“It has become abundantly clear to us that not only should the 737 Max be grounded, but also that there must be a rigorous investigation into why the aircraft, which has critical safety systems that did not exist on prior models, was certified without requiring additional pilot training,” The Oregon Democrat said in a joint news release with Washington Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen, chairman of the aviation subcommittee.

“We plan to conduct rigorous oversight with every tool at our disposal to get to the bottom of the FAA’s decision-making process,” DeFazio and Larsen said.

Also Watch: Watch: McConnell gets choked up saying goodbye to longtime staffer Stew

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.