Trump announces pick for FAA, an ex-Delta executive, as agency faces new scrutiny

President Trump previously pushed for his longtime personal pilot to lead the agency.
(Michael Reynolds /EPA-Shutterstock)

President Trump nominated former airline executive Stephen Dickson to head the Federal Aviation Administration, the White House said Tuesday.

Dickson, a former executive at Delta Air Lines, would replace acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell.

The FAA has been under interim leadership since January 2018, following the departure of Michael Huerta, whose five-year term had expired.

The announcement comes as the agency faces increasing criticism over its response to the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jetliner and questions over whether it did enough to ensure that the aircraft involved in the crash, a Boeing 737 Max 8, was safe to fly.


The March 10 crash, which killed all 157 people aboard, was the second involving the Boeing 737 Max 8 in less than five months.

Also on Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who had been a supporter of Dickson getting the permanent post, asked her department’s inspector general to launch an audit to “compile an objective and detailed factual history” of activities that led the FAA to certify the 737 Max 8.

Her announcement of the request emphasized that Boeing had applied for its certification for the plane in January 2012, and that the FAA granted it in March 2017 — shortly after she took over as secretary.

A spokesman for the inspector general said the office would launch an audit in response to Chao’s request. The spokesman said the “scope and objectives” of the review are still being determined.


Elwell, a former American Airlines pilot, has been acting administrator since Jan. 7, 2018. He also served as deputy administrator and in other capacities at the FAA.

Some critics have questioned why it has taken so long to fill such an important job. Trump had wanted his longtime personal pilot, John Dunkin, at the helm of the agency, but the president lacked the needed support on Capitol Hill for the nomination, which contributed to delays in nominating a permanent administrator, according to a former FAA official.

“He wanted his guy there,” according to the former official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the process. “There’s no question about that. It became something of a standoff.”

Dickson, who must be confirmed by the Senate, previously served as senior vice president for flight operations at Delta. In that role, he was responsible for the safety and performance of the airline’s global flight operations.


He is a former pilot, an A320 captain who flew the B727, B737, B757 and B767 during his career. Dickson also served as an Air Force officer and an R-15 fighter pilot.

Dickson graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and also holds a law degree from Georgia State University College of Law.