WASHINGTON, March 25 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden is withdrawing his nomination to head the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after Republicans criticized him as unfit to serve as the top air traffic controller.
Last year, Biden nominated Denver International Airport CEO Bill Washington to serve as FAA administrator. A spokesman for Washington at the airport did not immediately comment.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg later on Saturday confirmed Washington’s withdrawal, which was first reported by Reuters.
“The partisan attacks and procedural hurdles he faced were undeserved, but I respect his decision to withdraw and am grateful for his service,” Buttigieg said on Twitter.
The agency has faced several security questions in recent months after a series of close-call security incidents, and earlier this week the Senate Commerce Committee delayed a vote on his nomination, citing outstanding questions from some lawmakers. Sen. Kirsten Sinema, a Democrat, has not announced whether to support him, and Sen. Jon Tester is also still considering how to vote, a spokeswoman said this week.
Senator Ted Cruz, the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, said, “It is clear that Mr. Washington does not have the aviation experience necessary to run the FAA. An FAA with an extensive aviation background can garner broad bipartisan support in the Senate and keep the flying public safe.”
Cruz and other Republicans have said Washington, who retired from the U.S. military in July 2000, needs an exemption from rules requiring civilian leadership for the FAA. The Department of Transportation’s general counsel said Washington is fully qualified and does not need a waiver.
Cruz noted that Washington has only two years of experience as an airport CEO and was unable to answer some of Washington’s aviation questions during Washington’s confirmation hearing.
The White House insists Washington is fully qualified. “We feel the industry and the FAA are very comfortable” with shaking up the agency, Cantwell had said.
A White House official previously told Reuters “politics should not stop us from confirming an administrator to lead the FAA, and we will move quickly to recommend a new candidate for FAA administrator.”
“An onslaught of baseless Republican attacks on Mr. Washington’s service and experience irresponsibly delayed the process, threatened unnecessary procedural hurdles on the Senate floor, and ultimately led to his withdrawal of his nomination today,” the official said.
Washington was originally nominated in July, but didn’t get a hearing before the Commerce Committee until March 1.
The FAA has several recent safety issues.
In January, the FAA grounded all departing passenger airline services for nearly two hours due to a pilot messaging database failure, the first nationwide ground shutdown since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
On Wednesday, the FAA issued a safety alert to airlines, pilots and others saying “continued vigilance and attention to mitigating safety risks is required” after a series of collisions.
Six serious runway incursions have occurred since January, prompting the agency to convene a security summit last week.
Some industry officials think the White House may name FAA Administrator Billy Nolan as a new nominee. Nolan, appointed head of the FAA’s Office of Aviation Safety, has been FAA administrator since April 2022 and has the support of several Republicans in Congress.
Washington has the support of several airline unions and a range of groups, including family members of some of those killed in the 2019 Boeing ( BA.N ) 737 MAX crash.
The FAA has been without a permanent administrator for nearly a year.
This is the second major BIDE candidate to withdraw in recent weeks. Gigi Sohn, the key fifth seat on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), stepped down after overcoming a setback for Democrats who have been unable to control the telecom regulator for more than two years.
(Reporting by David Shepherdson, Deepa Babington and Marguerite Choi, Editing by Robert Birsal)
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