The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Michael G. Whitaker, a former Obama administration official, to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, filling a key vacancy that has existed for more than 18 months.
Mr. Whitaker, 62, was confirmed by a vote of 98 to 0, ending the leadership merry-go-round that has plagued the agency for more than half of President Biden’s time in office. His swift bipartisan confirmation underlined the desire of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to install a permanent administrator at the helm of the nation’s aviation regulator.
Mr Whitaker now faces the challenge of stabilizing an agency that is in turmoil and convincing the flying public that the nation’s air travel system is safe and reliable. A system outage halted flights nationwide in January, and a series of near collisions at airports across the country have raised fears about whether the air travel system is being stressed to danger point.
Former Delta Airlines executive and president Donald J. The FAA has been without a permanent leader since Trump appointee Stephen Dixon left the post last year. In recent months, Polly Trottenberg, the deputy transportation secretary, has been serving as the agency’s acting administrator, but she was scheduled to relinquish that post this week because of a federal law limiting how much she can do. For how long can the agency be run on acting basis?
Mr Whittaker’s confirmation to the post, which has a five-year term, comes after the Biden administration failed in its first attempt to appoint a permanent administrator. Last year, Mr. Biden nominated Philip A. Washington, chief executive of Denver International Airport, for the post. But Mr. Washington faced severe criticism because of his limited experience in aviation and withdrew from consideration in March.
Mr Biden in September nominated Mr Whitaker to be chief operating officer of Supernel, a Hyundai Motor Group company developing air taxis. He has a long resume in aviation and is deeply familiar with the FAA, having served as the agency’s Deputy Administrator during the Obama Administration. He was also an executive at United Airlines.
Mr. Whitaker fared much better in the Senate, with Republicans and Democrats on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee welcoming his extensive aviation experience. The panel approved his nomination by voice vote last week, setting the stage for his confirmation by the full Senate.