Senate confirms Huerta for 5-year term at FAA

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The US Senate has confirmed Michael Huerta for a five-year term as administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration following a nine-month long nomination process delayed by election-year politics.

After serving more than a year as the acting administrator, Huerta will assume formal leadership of an agency with a $16 billion budget as it attempts to implement a sweeping air traffic system modernisation programme called NextGen.

Huerta assumed the acting administrator role last December after his predecessor, Randy Babbitt, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Huerta so far has kept a low profile during his term as acting administrator, but that did not spare his nomination process from becoming slowed by political opponents of the Obama Administration.

The White House submitted Huerta's name in March for a five-year term as the FAA administrator. His nomination was approved by the Senate committee overseeing the FAA, but then was put on hold due to the objections of Senator Jim DeMint, a Republican from South Carolina.

DeMint said that he put Huerta's name on hold because he did not want to approve a five-year term for an Obama appointee before the presidential election on 6 November. After Obama won re-election for a second term, DeMint removed his hold on Huerta's nomination and announced his resignation from the Senate.

Huerta will begin his five-year term with the backing of several of the FAA's major stakeholders in the aviation community. Three major lobbying groups -Airlines for America, General Aviation Manufacturing Association and the Transportation Trades group of the AFL-CIO labour organization - applauded the Senate's decision to confirm Huerta for the five-year term.

Huerta has previously served as an industry executive with Affiliated Computer Services, which is now a Xerox company. He also was the commissioner of the Department of Ports, International Trade and Commerce for New York City, and worked as a senior official in the Department of Transportation during the Clinton Administration.

The FAA's top modernisation priority is implementing the NextGen programme, which seeks to convert the air traffic monitoring and control from ground-based radar to a satellite-enabled system.