Biden Announces Michael Whitaker as FAA Nominee

President Biden plans to nominate Michael G. Whitaker to be the new FAA chief, a position that has been open for more than 500 days. 

The nomination comes five months after Phillip Washington withdrew from consideration after congressional pushback over his limited aviation industry experience. The position has been vacant since March 2022, with Billy Nolen and Polly Trottenberg serving as acting administrators in the interim.

Resume: Whitaker is a 30+ year aerospace veteran, serving as deputy FAA administrator from 2013 to 2016 under Obama. Whitaker is now COO at Supernal, an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) startup. 

Whitaker’s nomination will have to be approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and the full Senate before he can get on the job.

“I have long urged President Biden to put an experienced nominee forward so the FAA can reduce disruptions, ensure safe travel, and guide us into the next era of aviation,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) said in a statement. “Given his experience as a former FAA deputy administrator, I look forward to swiftly assessing Mike Whitaker’s nomination.” 

Space’s regulators: The FAA plays a central role in regulating space activity, including monitoring launch infrastructure, issuing launch licenses, and maintaining airspace safety. However, since the early 2000’s, the agency has stopped short of regulating human space flight. 

  • In 2004, Congress imposed a “learning period” that prohibited additional regulations on space tourists. 
  • The rulemaking moratorium will end Oct. 1 without action from Congress, though industry has asked for another extension.
  • This month, Congress is also considering an FAA authorization bill, which asks the agency to look at how rockets and airplanes can better share the airspace. The current FAA authorization also expires Sept. 30. 

+ Starship and FAA update: After months of implementing operational improvements, SpaceX finally filed its Starship mishap report with the FAA in August. 

The FAA told Payload on Wednesday, “The SpaceX Starship mishap investigation remains open. The FAA will not authorize another Starship launch until SpaceX implements the corrective actions identified during the mishap investigation and demonstrates compliance with all the regulatory requirements of the license modification process.”

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