Former Delta Airlines operations executive Steve Dickson won Senate confirmation this week along party lines. During his committee hearing, revelations about Dickson’s role in a whistle-blower case surfaced, but the committee, again along party lines, sent his confirmation to the larger Senate, where he won the nod.
Smooth sailing is not likely in the cards for him, however. The FAA is under intense scrutiny over its handling of the certification of the Boeing 737 Max, the latest version of the more than 50 year old jet lineup. Late last year two 737 Max planes crashed resulting in hundreds of fatalities, with a newly incorporated technology called MCAS suspected as a contributing cause in both mishaps. During the subsequent and ongoing investigations into the plane and the way the agency handled its certification, numerous concerning reports have come to light about alleged lax oversight and ineffective communication, both between Boeing engineers and leadership but also between the airplane maker and the FAA.
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In the whistle-blower case, a pilot named Karlene Petitt, who raised concerns about company safety management. Delta grounded her, referred her to a psychiatric evaluation with a company doctor, who diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. That diagnosis was later reversed in more than one subsequent evaluation and Petitt went back to flying for Delta after 18 months off the line. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger also spoke out publicly against Dickson’s confirmation.
Dickson will take the reins shortly. The FAA has been without a Senate-confirmed administrator since Michael Huerta’s term ended in January of 2018.