President Joe Biden has nominated Phillip A. Washington, CEO of Denver International Airport for the past year and a long-time leader in the transit industry, to head the Federal Aviation Administration.
The next step for Washington, whose selection was announced by the White House on July 6, will be a confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. A hearing date had not yet been announced.
Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said in a statement, “Now more than ever, FAA must set the gold standard in aviation safety. This starts from the top.”
She added, "I expect and will require strong leadership from the next FAA administrator.” She said, “I look forward to careful consideration of Mr. Washington’s nomination during the confirmation process.”
Before taking the top job at the Denver Airport, Washington was CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) from 2015 to 2021.
Earlier, he was CEO of the Denver Regional Transportation District for six years. He was named an ENR Newsmaker in 2014 for his work at the district. Washington also served for 24 years in the U.S. Army and was a Command Sergeant Major.
If confirmed, he would succeed Stephen Dickson. He was sworn in to a five-year term in 2019, but announced on Feb. 17 that he would step down as of March 31, citing a desire to return to Atlanta. Billy Nolen, acting FAA administrator since April 2022, had been agency associate administrator for aviation safety.
“The FAA has lacked a permanent leader for far too long. While I am pleased that the White House finally has prioritized this vacancy and submitted a nominee for Senate vetting," said the House commerce committee’s top Republican, Rep. Roger Wicker (Miss.), in a statement. "I am skeptical because of the nominee’s lack of experience in aviation.”
He added, “This position requires extensive knowledge of the industry in order to ensure the safety and efficiency of the agency and American air travel.”
Dickson, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, flew a supersonic jet trainer and fighter jet while on active duty. He later spent almost 30 years at Delta Air Lines, where he flew various types of jet aircraft and rose to senior vice president of flight operations.
Dickson’s predecessor, Dan Elwell, who was acting administrator from 2018 to 2019, also had a long background in aviation.
Airport Organizations React
However, Washington’s nomination won praise from airport groups.
Todd Hauptli, American Association of Airport Executives president and CEO, said in a Twitter post that Washington “has spent decades leading complex organizations and successfully managing multi-faceted transportation programs.”
Hauptli added, "I know him to be incisive, thoughtful, deliberate and a gifted, intentional leader. The FAA assignment is no easy task, but given the chance, he will more than meet the challenge.”
Kevin M. Burke, Airports Council International-North America president and CEO, said, “As CEO of Denver International Airport, Phil has had to work as a real innovator and problem-solver during one of the most difficult times our industry has faced and his knowledge and experience are exactly what we need in an FAA Administrator.”
Burke said Washington’s experience will be important as FAA continues to carry out the aviation portion of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and also to prepare the next FAA authorization bill.
Burke also cited Washington’s “strong track record when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Washington is co-founder of the Equity in Infrastructure Project, which seeks to generate more economic opportunity for Historically Underutilized Businesses through more prime contracts, joint ventures and equity contracting.