Senate Confirms Mike Whitaker as FAA Administrator

Image: NASA

The FAA finally has a permanent leader after an 18-month vacancy. 

The Senate voted 98-0 to approve the nomination of former FAA deputy Mike Whitaker to serve a five-year term as head of the agency, which has a hand in overseeing the commercial space industry.

Space responsibilities: The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation is responsible for multiple facets of the commercial space mission including:

  • Issuing launch and re-entry licenses to make sure the public is safe from commercial operations
  • Helping air and space operators share the airspace
  • Setting and implementing spaceport policy

Top to-dos: Whitaker is taking over during an important time for the agency as it figures out how to juggle its massive commercial air travel mission alongside its growing commercial space responsibilities. Some major focus areas for the agency include:

  • Congress passing a new FAA reauthorization before the current authorization expires on Dec. 31.
  • The potential expiration of the “learning period” for the commercial spaceflight industry (currently set for Jan. 1), which has prevented the agency from imposing many regulations on the industry since 2004
  • Even if the learning period is extended, space tourism companies told Congress last week that it’s time to start a transition period with the FAA to prepare for more regulation in the future.

SpaceX also slammed the FAA at the hearing for the delayed approval for Starship to fly again, and urged the agency to double its licensing staff to keep pace with rapid commercial space growth. 

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