DALLAS – The Biden administration has selected Billy Nolen, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) safety head, as the agency’s acting chief, effective April 1.
Nolen, who was named associate administrator for aviation safety by the FAA in December 2021, had previously worked for WestJet Airlines (WS) in Canada as vice president of safety, security, and quality.
Prior to WS, Nolen held senior safety positions at Qantas Airways (QF), Airlines for America (A4A), and American Airlines (AA). He began his professional career in 1989 as a pilot for AA, earning type ratings on Boeing 757, 767, and McDonnell Douglas MD-80 aircraft.
Nolen will take over for FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, who will step down on March 31, until the White House names a permanent replacement. Dickson headed the FAA as it oversaw a comprehensive review of the previously-grounded Boeing 737 MAX.
Challenges Ahead for the Acting Chief
As of next Friday, Nolen will be in charge of a team of around 7,600 FAA employees who oversee all aspects of aviation safety, including aerospace manufacturing, airline operations, commercial and general aviation activities, and the growing fields of unmanned aircraft systems and electric propulsion.
Nolen will have to deal with the 5G wireless deployment using the C-Band spectrum, which has caused major international airlines to cancel certain US flights due to concerns that the network would interfere with important aviation electronics.
Then there’s the Boeing issue. After two fatal 737 MAX crashes in five months that led to the plane’s 20-month grounding, the FAA’s safety measures and oversight of Boeing came under scrutiny. In December 2020, Congress enacted legislation reforming the FAA’s certification process, specifically how it delegates some responsibilities to aircraft manufacturers.
The FAA told Boeing earlier this week that it might not gain certification of an extended version of the 737 MAX certified before a major safety deadline set by Congress, and also requested updates on the 737-10 and 777-9, according to Reuters.
The FAA will continue to investigate a number of Boeing-related issues, stating last month that the manufacturer would not be allowed to self-certify its 787 Dreamliners.
According to the FAA, its Deputy Administrator Bradley Mims “will also take on an expanded role during this interim period, focusing on the FAA’s workforce and the nation’s airports.”
Featured image: Billy Nolen. Photo: WestJet