FAA Administrator Nominee Goes 0-For-7 In Aviation Policy Quiz

During Senate confirmation hearings for President Biden’s nominee to lead the FAA, Senator Ted Budd (R-NC) asked a rapid fire set of questions that amounted to a knowledge quiz. It was awkward both listening to the questions, as Budd tried to appear as though he’s an expert in the asking, and listening to the answers as Washington knew the answers to exactly zero of them.

And in answering it was clear he didn’t have enough familiarity with the issues to speak about them more generally, even if he didn’t exactly follow the questions.

Someone put this to Jeopardy music.

To be sure, some of the questions seem a bit inapposite. But it does seem like you’d want an FAA Administrator to be able to offer basic thoughts on what might cause an aircraft to stall; to have a working understanding of type, production and airworthiness certificates; and to be familiar with aircraft separation standards. The Administrator will be deeply involved in certification issues and safety issues – and there have been several recent loss of separation incidents.

It is very clear that the nominee lacks significant aviation experience. He had been in the industry, as head of an airport, for just a year when he was nominated. His proponents argue that he’s a good manager (although there are arguments why this might not be true).

What we aren’t getting is any real discussion of whether ‘good manager’ is a transferable skill to a federal bureaucracy in need of reform, nor whether such a manager needs context for the industry they’ll be regulating. And the answers to those questions may be the actually important ones for evaluation this nomination.

(HT: @crucker)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I don’t think an airline CEO could answer these questions. These are managers.

  2. Exactly what Daniel says. The CFO of my law firm can’t answer technical legal questions. Different positions require different specialties. You need someone who knows the industry and how to manage people with differing expertise – not with the expertise on piloting off the top of his head. Just one more example of how all that party knows is putting on a show for people who understand very little.

  3. Yawn. Tedd Budd is a grandstanding election denier desperately seeking clicks.

  4. @Daniel – you would think someone that is responsible currently for a very busy airport (DEN) would have enough knowledge to respond intelligently to almost any aviation related question. Frankly his lack of specific knowledge is the least of my concerns with this nominee. As you likely know there is both an investigation into corruption at RTD and also a discrimination claim under his watch at DEN. Then you have the issue that he is retired military drawing a military pension and the requirements at strict that this is a civilian position.

    You would think Biden could find a qualified, non controversial, candidate but just like the woman he is trying to shove down the Senate’s throat to be on the FCC (BTW at least 3 Dem Senators have come out against her) they pick bad candidates and don’t know when to cut their losses. I don’t see this guy getting the 50 votes what would allow the VP to break the tie. If he did God help us with him and his boss (Mayor Pete) running things.

  5. @Daniel Pretty sure an airline CEO would at least understand the basics of what causes aerodynamic stall. That’s really as basic as you can possibly get for aviation. But we’re not interviewing for airline CEO here. We’re interviewing for someone who will be in charge of aviation safety and regulating the aviation industry, who needs to know a lot more about aviation safety than an airline (or airport) CEO. It is vitally important for someone in this role to understand aviation safety and the regulatory framework around aviation, which Washington clearly does not even have the slightest grasp of (nor would someone with his background be expected to.) The most important responsibility of this role is making key aviation safety decisions. It is clear to anyone that Washington is not even remotely close to being qualified to do that.

    As he said several times, he’s not a pilot. Someone filling this role *should* be a pilot, engineer in aerospace, or someone with aviation regulatory experience (or some combination of those) who also has some managerial experience. Finding people who are actually qualified would be relatively easy. There are minimally thousands of them, probably tens of thousands or more. This is purely a matter of political cronyism being placed before aviation safety.

  6. I seem to recall a past controversy that FAA administrators are never pilots. I’m not saying they should be because first and foremost you would want somebody who can manage a $28 billion budget.

    Both parties do these types of things. It’s not fair to pick on one Senator or political party when it’s a bipartisan Washington tradition. You would think his handlers would have given him something he could have used.

  7. The problem with the “hes just a manager” argument is that airlines and anyone with any kind of money or lobbying interest in aviation will be able to manipulate someone with no technical knowledge of aviation. You can say he just manages the people below him but he makes the decisions and can overrule people underneath him. How will he handle airlines wanting exemptions for the 1500 rule or FAR 117 rest rules if he has no clue what those are? How will he handle Boeing and Airbus wanting regulatory concessions to get their planes to the market quicker and at lower cost?

  8. @Mary, so Tedd Budd is Gary’s click-loving cousin? @ David, a lawyer commenting on managerial skills is a bit of Friday comedy. But I agree with you, sort of. The better analogy for the role would likely be a member of board of directors rather than a manager. Directors don’t necessarily need technical expertise but they do need to know how to apply expertise they do have to frame useful recommendations. And technical expertise doesn’t hurt. The nominee did a really poor job of framing his responses in the hearing. All nominees get an insane amount of coaching. If this is his best after literally the best coaching support money can buy, this does seem like a weak nominee. Getting bulldozed by a political hack is really disappointing. Is there really nobody from the airline industry qualified for this job?

  9. @miamiorbust those are your words, not mine. Tedd’s pathetic need for MAGA love and attention far exceeds that of any reporter, blogger, or columnist. He’s infamous for all the wrong reasons.

  10. Under qualified diversity hire that has a history of being accused of some shady dealings

  11. @miamiorbust There are undoubtedly tons of qualified candidates from the industry. The problem is that someone from a different industry who had experience campaigning for Biden was selected instead of someone with aviation experience.

    Current acting FAA Administrator (2022-present): professional Airline Transport Pilot type-rated on several different airliners with experience at airlines in 3 different countries.

    Previous appointed FAA Administrator (2019-2022): professional Airline Transport Pilot for 27 years at Delta, who then was Delta’s SVP of Flight Operations before being nominated to head the FAA.

    Acting Administrator 2018-2019: USAF Lt. Col. who flew in the Air Force before being a flying for 16 years for American (also an ATP, of course.)

    Administrator 2011-2018: No aviation experience before being nominated to Deputy Administrator of the FAA in 2010.

    Administrator 2009-2011: Airline Transport Pilot for 25 years, then President of ALPA.

    Administrator 2007-2009: Naval Aviator, then Airline Transport Pilot, Flight Operations Supervisor for United, aviation lawyer, policy advisor for NTSB, then Deputy FAA Administrator before becoming Administrator. Now an SVP at Rockwell Collins.

    Administrator 2002-2007: Only the 2nd FAA Administrator who was not a licensed pilot or had military aviation experience, but had previously held Presidential appointments across multiple executive Departments and was Chair of the NTSB before being nominated to be FAA Administrator (so, while not a pilot, did have significant aviation safety and regulatory experience.)

    Administrator 1997-2002: First FAA Administrator who was not either a licensed pilot or military pilot (or both.) Only previous aviation-related experience was like Washington’s: managing an airport (BOS in this case.)

    Every other FAA administrator all the way back to the beginning was either a licensed pilot or military pilot (or both.)

    So, no, it isn’t really a “both parties” issue in this case. Clinton, Obama, and Biden are the only Presidents who have ever nominated someone to head the FAA who didn’t have prior aviation safety experience and only one other FAA Administrator besides those three was not a highly-experienced pilot.

  12. The effect of this video is Tedd Budd comes across looking like a pompous douchebag. While I doubt that was his actual intent, you have to admit that he does it with consummate skill.

  13. The United States is purposefully, systematically under destruction. We are doomed as a nation owing to the hijacking of our nation by sinister elements. 330 million folks in America and this is their selected nominee. So many qualified people in aviation but the corruption wins out. We are ruled by criminals and gangsters. The real frightening aspect is how so very few protest or confront these criminals. It’s over.

  14. When someone is hired/appointed for diversity and not merit this is what we get. Worse than this is pilots are being hired for diversity instead of competence. Unfortunately, the big problem is these Republican senators and representatives don’t say they don’t recognize any liberal appointed as legitimate and they don’t make public declarations that law enforcement should not listen to these illegitimate people in positions if confirmed. They criticize in hearings but it amounts to nothing. They don’t use their positions to undermine people that are bad for us. They tell us to obey instead of ignore these people and mobilize local and state law enforcement and governments to protect ourselves from their orders.

  15. Most of these are basic questions. I had to learn these when getting my private pilot certificate. The head of the FAA should at least know these simple regulations that they make every pilot in the US know. Ted Budd was totally reasonable to ask.

  16. I have no opinion on this nomination, but reading some fo the comments as well as the Senator’s grandstanding got me thinking about how common “regulatory capture”” is in our country, when the regulated industry gets its own people into the regulatory position and, unsurprsingly, the new regulator tends to promote postions favorable to the industry. There’s a reasonable argument, it seems to me, for good managers from outside the industry to be put in top regulatory positions. Whether this guy fits that description is beyond my ability to judge

  17. @mary snider “Yawn. Tedd Budd is a grandstanding election denier desperately seeking clicks.”

    “Tedd’s pathetic need for MAGA love and attention far exceeds that of any reporter, blogger, or columnist. He’s infamous for all the wrong reasons.”

    Twice you criticize the questioner. Have you no opinion about the responses? Otherwise, you’re being totally political.

  18. He should have asked how many bags an EP gets on a oneworld Business class partner flight.

  19. We all agree that the FAA system has been broken for years and is in need of change/repair. Perhaps it is time to try something different than we have before. The skill set associated with just being a pilot does not and has not translated into an effective manager for the FAA.

  20. This is America in 2023. Both of the last two administrations put friends and political cronies in cabinet positions that they were absolutely not qualified for. Ben Carson head of HUD?! Mayor Pete DOT?

    All of you fighting in these comments section need to wake up. Neither party actually cares about the country or the American people, just their political interests and money.

  21. I didn’t hear the most important question, Who do you know? or who are you related to? Very critical these days.

  22. You can’t embarrass people who have no shame. Competence and knowledge are simply not part of the job description in political appointments.

  23. You all have a lot of feedback, worthless rhat is. Maybe you guys should just come over here to DEN and see how terrible this place is. Empty acohol abuse bottles everywhere, drug use that most of the airport facilities employees use, drug baggies, needles, feces everywhwere. This guy is way under qualified because the airport that he managed is a disaster and extremely dangerous.

  24. Mr. Washington is not qualified to be appointed FAA Administrator! He lacks requisite skills to lead a major Federal organization. Also, Mr. Washington comes with added baggage from employment at DEN and LAX. This appointment underscores solid evidence the Biden Administration continues to pursue a discredited WOKE policy of NOT hiring the MOST qualified candidates for government positions! When I travel by air or even rail, I want the MOST qualified persons to be selected for positions to ensure passenger safety! This decidedly includes the FAA Administrator!

  25. MM, I am not sure what an “empty alcohol abuse bottle is”, but I can assure you that in 6-8 trips per year over the last 9+ years I personally have not seen “ drug baggies, needles, feces everywhere “ Not sure what evidence you have regarding “ drug use that most of the airport facilities employees use”.
    While I was in the transportation industry with Federal oversight, almost all operational employees were subject to random drug testing. Not sure if that extends to DEN.

  26. Yet again, the Biden Administration is making it clear: they just DON’T CARE about the safety of Americans (airplanes, trains). It is far more important in ‘Biden world’ to adopt insane woke ideology that defies common sense and reason. When things go wrong — and they will go VERY wrong — remember this post, because Democrats who treasure identity politics over competence and qualifications will own the consequences.

  27. @cr your comment re @mary snider are spot on. As several professors and debate coaches taught me ad hominem attacks are rhetorically lazy and employing them usually shows you lack the ability to effectively counter the substance of your opponent’s argument and have lost the debate.

  28. For a good many of these governmental departmental high level top jobs, we have no choice but to live with unqualified political cronies (of whom this nominee as well as his clueless boss would top any list) that are rewarded with their positions. However, in the case of the FAA it is critical that a fully qualified person take the reins, the safety of the flying public is at state.

  29. Those of you blaming the Senator for his questions are completely off base. This nominee is completely unsuited and unprepared for the position. For example, the head of the FDA would be expected to know the difference between Phase I, II, and III clinical trials. The head of the World Bank needs to understand how the bond market works. For the head of the FAA not to have an iota of technical knowledge about a field that is EXTREMELY technical is an unbelievable embarrassment.

  30. @vandy91

    That was before newthink. Now your identity defines your views so you are your argument.

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