President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Elaine Chao, who served as Secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush Administration, to be the new Secretary of the Department of Transportation (DoT). It’s the DoT that oversees the Federal Aviation Administration. The wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Chao is a nominee whose confirmation is likely to have wide support. She would replace Anthony Foxx, who served in the Obama Administration since 2013. The job of FAA Administrator is one that’s term-limited to five years. Current FAA head Michael Huerta has two more years remaining on his five-year term.
As Secretary of Labor, Chao was known for her policy initiatives that were strongly conservative and pro-business. These included her pushing regulations that raised the income level of workers who were guaranteed overtime pay. She also created new, mandatory reporting laws for labor unions, a move she touted as being an anti-corruption measure.
Chao’s nomination comes at a time of great uncertainty for the future of aviation regulation, at a time when the airlines are actively fighting for control of the airspace through a privatized air traffic control system and when general aviation groups from AOPA to NBAA are fighting to protect access to airspace and airports around the country, as well as against a user fee system supported by the airlines, but bitterly opposed by GA advocates.
News of Chao’s nomination was greeted with a lukewarm welcome from NBAA, which said that the organization welcomed Chao by congratulating her on the nomination, but prefacing it with the statement that, “We know that investment in infrastructure, including for aviation, is a priority for the incoming Trump Administration, and the DOT secretary will be key in making this priority a reality,” and gave its hoped-for outline of a Chao tenure at DoT by saying, “we look forward to working with her to continue promoting general aviation, and building on the progress being made toward a Next Generation aviation system that serves and protects all stakeholders and communities.”