A vote on President Joe Biden’s choice to run the Federal Aviation Administration was delayed indefinitely Wednesday in the face of an opposition blitz by Republicans, who say the nominee lacks enough experience in aviation to lead the agency, which is under pressure to stem a surge in dangerous close calls between planes.
The Senate Commerce Committee was scheduled to vote on Denver International Airport CEO Phillip Washington, whose nomination has languished since Biden announced his choice last July.
Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said the vote would be delayed to gather information requested by senators. She did not detail the information or name the committee members who sought the delay.
The FAA has not had a Senate-confirmed administrator since March 2022, when Stephen Dickson stepped down midway through his term. The agency is being led by an acting administrator, Billy Nolen.
The FAA administrator is not a cabinet-level job, but Republicans have turned the nomination into a high-profile contest with Biden and Senate Democrats.
Washington ran transit agencies in Denver and Los Angeles, but his only aviation-related experience has come since taking the top job at the Denver airport in July 2021. Washington has strong ties to the administration — he led the incoming Biden administration’s transition team for the Transportation Department, which includes the FAA.
Republicans argue, however, that he lacks experience in FAA’s core mission of aviation safety.
“This is a job for someone with specialized knowledge needed to ensure the safety of the flying public,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “Phil Washington is objectively, indisputably unqualified to lead the FAA.”
Federal investigators are examining six recent close calls between planes — in one instance, a FedEx plane came within less than 100 feet of a Southwest jet after an air traffic controller cleared both to use the same runway in Austin, Texas.