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Aviation industry groups are applauding U.S. President Joe Biden’s nomination of Michael G. Whitaker to become administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a move that would lead to a minor shake-up at Supernal, the eVTOL manufacturer where Whitaker currently serves as chief operating officer.
The White House announced Whitaker’s nomination in a statement Sept. 7, 2023, touting his three decades of experience in the aviation industry, including three years as the FAA’s deputy administrator from 2013 to 2016.
“Michael understands that the most important safety feature on any aircraft is two, highly-trained and well-rested pilots, and the paramount need to protect current pilot safety training regulations,” said Capt Jason Ambrosi, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA).
ALPA is the largest airline pilot union in the world, representing more than 75,000 pilots a 43 airlines in Canada and the United States.
“This nomination comes at a particularly critical time for the FAA. In order to maintain the world’s safest air transportation system, modernize outdated infrastructure and keep passengers and crews safe, we need permanent, stable leadership that is safety-focused, and we look forward to his swift approval by the United States Senate.”
A private pilot and lawyer, Whitaker currently oversees all commercial and key business operations at Supernal, the Hyundai-owned eVTOL developer. His exit would trigger a change in the company’s C-Suite as it works to launch eVTOL operations in 2028.
In his previous stint with the FAA, Whitaker helped guide the transition of the U.S. air traffic control system from radar-based to a satellite-enabled surveillance technology, better known by its acronym, ADS-B, the White House noted in a release.
He also previously served as group CEO of InterGlobe Enterprises, the largest travel company in India, and operator of the popular IndiGo airline. Before that, Whitaker spent 15 years at United Airlines in various roles. He began his career as a litigator and served as an assistant general counsel at Trans World Airlines.
Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), also voiced support for Whitaker’s nomination.
““The FAA, the civil aviation industry and the American flying public deserve a leader with experience in managing large organizations and an aviation background to develop an aviation system that is safer, more efficient and technologically advanced,” Bunce said in a statement.
“We are pleased to see that the Biden Administration has nominated Mike Whitaker, who we feel possesses the leadership skills, management experience and aviation knowledge needed to lead the FAA.”
Bunce also praised the recent appointment of Katie Thomson as deputy administrator of the FAA. He cited a need for “stability and direction for the FAA during this transformative time for aviation.”
There has been no permanent, Senate-approved leader of the FAA since Steve Dickson resigned in March 2022, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.
Since then, a series of acting administrators have led the organization, including Billy Nolen, who stepped down this summer to become chief safety officer at eVTOL company Archer Aviation.
The current acting administrator is Polly Trottenberg, who is also deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation. She has been in the role since June.
Biden’s previous nominee withdrew in March amid criticism he didn’t have the aviation experience necessary for the job, Politico reported.
Whitaker’s nomination met with a raft of aviation industry endorsements, including from the National Business Aviation Administration (NBAA), the Regional Airlines Association and the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International.
“Mike Whitaker has long been an outspoken aviation safety advocate and champion of innovation in the industry, who demonstrated during his time as deputy administrator at the FAA that he is a proven leader who delivers results,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “We enthusiastically support his confirmation as FAA administrator.”
To be confirmed, Whitaker must now undergo a Senate vetting process.