Congressional GOP pilots urge Biden to withdraw FAA nominee

More than a dozen Republicans in Congress are urging President Biden to withdraw his nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration over a lack of “aviation experience.”

The 14 lawmakers wrote a letter to Mr Biden arguing the nominee, Phil Washington, was woefully unprepared to head the agency. Lawmakers, each of whom holds a pilot’s license, noted that federal law requires the FAA chief “to have experience in an area directly related to aviation.”

“The FAA cannot afford to be led by anyone who needs on-the-job training, especially at a time when our aviation system is facing tremendous safety challenges such as: “B. multiple airline near misses and the first nationwide ground stop of planes since 9/11,” they wrote in Thursday’s letter.

Mr. Washington is not a pilot but has been the CEO of Denver International Airport since 2021. Between 2015 and 2020, he ran the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is responsible for operating the city’s bus and subway lines.

“His aviation experience is limited to having worked at Denver Airport for less than two years,” the lawmaker wrote. “In this role, Mr. Washington is primarily responsible for non-aviation matters such as the airport’s shops, restaurants, parking lots and buildings.”

If confirmed, Mr. Washington would not be the first FAA administrator without a direct aviation background. Presidents Clinton and Obama appointed individuals to the posts who had served in the transportation sector but were not licensed pilots.

For example, Mr. Clinton appointed Jane Garvey as FAA Administrator in 1997. Mrs. Garvey, a former director of Boston’s Logan Airport, was widely known for overseeing the “Big Dig” freeway project in Massachusetts.

Regardless of the story, GOP lawmakers said the current FAA administrator should have an aviation background given the issues the agency is facing. In recent months, the FAA has come under fire after a series of near misses.

Mr. Washington was nominated by the White House for the FAA post in July 2022. His nomination stalled in the face of opposition from Senate Republicans, which was split 50-50 between parties at the time. Democrats now have a 51-seat majority, though several senators are out due to illness.

The Senate is expected to vote on the nomination on Wednesday.

Aside from Mr. Washington’s lack of a pilot’s license, the candidate faces questions about his managerial skills.

Mr. Washington was previously named in two other court cases alleging widespread discrimination and retaliation against whistleblowers during his tenure as CEO of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

His name also appeared on a criminal search warrant issued by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in September 2022 investigating allegations of favoritism at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

A recent federal lawsuit filed by a Denver airport employee alleges that he was subjected to “threats” and “intolerable” working conditions under Mr. Washington’s leadership.

The lawsuit was filed by a Hispanic employee who says his job was threatened after he complained about wage discrimination and racist remarks from a manager.

Mr. Washington has denied wrongdoing and said the allegations made were false.

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