By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee said on Wednesday it plans to vote next week on President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The committee has scheduled a March 22 vote on Denver International Airport Chief Executive Officer Phil Washington to serve as top U.S. aviation regulator as the agency faces questions after a series of close call safety incidents.
Washington has come under fire from Republicans who question if he has the required aviation experience needed for the job while the Transportation Department says Washington is fully qualified.
In January, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to establish an FAA task force to improve a key pilot messaging database. The Senate Commerce Committee will vote on the measure next week.
In January, the FAA halted all departing passenger airline flights for nearly two hours because of the pilot messaging database outage, the first nationwide ground stop of its kind since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The FAA, without a permanent leader for nearly a year, has come under fire after a series of recent near-miss incidents and still faces questions about its oversight of Boeing after two fatal 737 MAX crashes.
Senator Ted Cruz, ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, and other Republicans say Washington, who retired from the U.S. Army in July 2000, must have a waiver from rules requiring civilian leadership to head the FAA and said Washington was unable to answer basic questions about the FAA.
Senate Commerce chair Maria Cantwell says Washington is the right candidate to change FAA culture and ensure accountability: “I definitely don’t think he represents the status quo,” she said this month.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sandra Maler and Stephen Coates)