US president Barack Obama has nominated Anthony Foxx, mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, for the role of Department of Transportation (DOT) secretary.
The appointment must now clear a vote from the US Senate.
Foxx would replace Ray LaHood, who announced in January that he would not be seeking a second term after overseeing the department since 2009.
During a press conference on 29 April, Foxx praised LaHood's "astute vision and no-nonsense approach" to overseeing the department and said he would uphold these standards if confirmed.
Foxx has served as Charlotte's mayor since 2009 and, like LaHood and his predecessor Mary Peters, has little background in aviation. Despite this, Charlotte Douglas International airport serving as a major US Airways hub means that aviation has been visible in Foxx's role as mayor, points out consultant Michael Miller, president at Miller Air Group.
Foxx has a "tacit understanding of the importance of aviation to commerce in the US," says Miller. This could enhance ties with the airline industry, which has generally not been amenable to LaHood's sweeping regulations to strengthen consumer protections in the industry.
"The bottom line is that it's a step forward to have somebody who understands the value of air transportation to the economy," he said.
Airlines for America (A4A) commended Foxx's nomination for this reason.
"As an elected leader of a hub market, Mayor Foxx understands well how important airlines are to jobs and the economy," said A4A president and chief executive Nicholas Calio. "A4A urges quick Senate confirmation, and looks forward to working with him to address policy and infrastructure challenges that impede airlines from competing globally and achieving sustained profitability."
LaHood has championed consumer protections in the airline industry, pushing through rules on tarmac delays and imposing restrictions on how airlines market fares.
In December 2009, the DOT adopted a final rule that put a 3h limit on tarmac delays and required operators to become more transparent in how they communicate delays. Additional regulations were put into place in January 2012 as part of a consumer rule passed a year earlier that requires airlines to disclose baggage fees, allow passengers to hold reservations for up to a day and include taxes and fees in their published airfares.
As the new transportation secretary, Foxx would have to address whether to continue further consumer protection rules that the DOT is in the process of considering.
The DOT is analysing a third round of new consumer protection regulations, which addresses the responsibilities of code-share partners for protecting consumers and how they should disclose data. It would also serve to bolster travel agents' transparency about preferential pricing and how they disclose fees.
The Department had originally scheduled to publish a proposed rule on the issue in January 2012, but a rulemaking report released by the department in April now projects it to come out in July 2013.
The DOT has been in the limelight recently for how it has responded to sequestration, a congressionally mandated measure that imposed across-the-board automatic spending cuts across government departments. While sequestration's effects on air travel are temporarily under control, the sequester will be an ongoing issue for the next transportation secretary.
Last week thousands of flights across the US were delayed due to ground stop programmes at airports affected by reduced staffing of air traffic control towers. To remedy the ramifications, Congress passed a bill that allowed LaHood to transfer up to $253 million from the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) airport improvement grant's surplus fund. The FAA implemented the furloughs as a way to reach the $637 million needed under sequestration.
That measure was implemented after industry groups such as Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the Regional Airline Association (RAA) and Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) filed a suit to stop the furloughs, calling them "irresponsible and unnecessary."
Airlines Southwest Airlines chief executive said that it was not informed of the FAA's plans until five days before they were implemented on 21 April.
FAA administrator Michael Huerta said it had used all of its flexibility in avoiding the furloughs.
The FAA has also pushed back a deadline to cease funding for 149 air traffic control towers to 15 June. Those facilities were supposed to be closed on 7 April.
After being introduced by Obama as the nominee, Foxx pleaded for adopting a bipartisan approach to transportation policy.
"There is no such thing," Foxx says, "as a Democratic or Republican road, bridge, port, airfield or rail system."