Senate Confirms Former Delta Air Lines Executive Stephen Dickson to Lead FAA in Party Line Vote

July 24, 2019, 7:57 PM UTC

In a 52-to-40 vote split along party lines, the Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Stephen Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines executive, for a five-year term to lead of the Federal Aviation Administration.

President Trump named Dickson to lead the FAA in March, when the agency was facing increased scrutiny following its certification of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft. Two 737 Max planes have crashed in the past year due to flaws in their automated flight control systems, prompting global airlines to ground their 373 Max fleets.

Dickson’s confirmation took on a controversial tone last month after the disclosure of his involvement in an effort by Delta to retaliate against a pilot who raised safety concerns at the airline. In 2016, when he served as head of Delta’s flight operations, Dickson approved sending the whistleblower to a psychiatrist after she reported several FAA violations by Delta. The pilot then sued Delta for what she claimed was retaliation.

Dickson failed to include the incident on his nomination questionnaire. Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee began looking into the pilot’s claims, leading Senate Democrats to vote against Dickson’s confirmation, while Republicans continued to stand by him.

Senators took to social media to support or criticize Dickson’s confirmation. “As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and speak with Mr. Dickson on a number of occasions, and each time, I’ve been impressed with his knowledge and expertise,” West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore said in a statement. “I believe he will be a capable and effective leader of the FAA.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, the ranking Democrat on the commerce committee, called Dickson’s failure to disclose the whistleblower case “troublesome” and a “major concern.” Speaking on the Senate floor, Cantwell said, “We’ve never had a partisan vote on an FAA nominee in the past, and I believe that we should have found consensus on a nominee for the FAA, given all of the concerns the public has about flying safety.”

During a Senate confirmation hearing in May, Dickson said he was committed to restoring public confidence in the wake of the 737 Max crashes. In written responses to the committee, he also defended his handling of the whistleblower at Delta, saying he would “never tolerate retaliation of any kind to any employee” and that referring her to a psychiatrist was in his view a “sound course of action.”

The 50-to-42 vote to confirm Dickson stands in contrast to the 90-to-8 vote on Tuesday to confirm Mark T. Esper as Trump’s choice to head the Department of Defense.

Dan Elwell has served as acting administrator of the FAA since January, when the previous administrator, Michael Huerta, completed the end of his five-year appointment.

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