The US Senate on 24 July voted 52 to 40 in favour of confirming Steve Dickson to become administrator of the US Federal Aviation Administration at a time when the agency faces scrutiny from lawmakers to reform its safety oversight.

The vote along party lines reflects skepticism from Democrats about whether Dickson will uphold his promises to senators to scrutinize the safety certification process for aircraft or protect the rights of whistleblowers raising safety concerns. Senators including Maria Cantwell of Washington and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut expressed concern about Dickson because he omitted mention of a lawsuit filed by a whistleblower in his nomination questionnaire that asked about any involvement in lawsuits.

Delta Air Lines pilot Karlene Petitt in her lawsuit against the airline claimed she faced retaliation for making internal complaints at the airline about potential safety violation while Dickson was senior-vice president of flight operations at Delta. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on 10 July voted 14 to 12 along party lines to advance Dickson’s nomination.

“I have not previously and will never tolerate retaliation of any kind to any employee who raises safety concerns,” Dickson said in written responses to the committee. He also responded to the committee that he was not named as a party in the lawsuit.

The Airlines for America president Nicholas Calio in a statement congratulates Dickson on his confirmation and says “he has the vision, knowledge and experience to lead the FAA at this crucial time for the agency and for commercial aviation”.

The trade organization leader also called on lawmakers to consider bicameral passage of a waiver for FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell to continue serving as deputy administrator of the agency.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers in both houses of Congress are scrutinizing the safety oversight processes of Boeing and the FAA in the wake of two fatal crashes of 737 Max aircraft. Information provided by whistleblowers and processes to protect their rights to raise safety concerns are key parts of congressional investigations.

House and Senate lawmakers have questioned whether the FAA allowed Boeing to rush 737 Max aircraft through certification. When pressed by the committee about 737 Max aircraft during his confirmation hearing in May, Dickson said “I will never certify an airplane that I wouldn’t put my family on”.

Dickson made promises to lawmakers during that hearing in May to address their concerns about aviation safety. Republican senator Ted Cruz told Dickson, “what I’m asking you to do, if confirmed, is be pissed off that 346 people died”, referring to the victims of two 737 Max crashes. Blumenthal asked if Dickson would be more open to sharing information from discussions about aviation safety issues with President Donald Trump and White House officials, to which Dickson replied, “I will be as candid as I possibly can”.

Democratic senator Ed Markey of Connecticut during that hearing asked Dickson to be vigilant to ensure that safety-related equipment not be offered as optional on aircraft for an extra fee, to which then-nominee Dickson replied “we need to look very carefully at what should be safety critical”.

Source: Cirium Dashboard