President Joe Biden’s pick for FAA Administrator Phil Washington faced a turbulent Senate confirmation hearing that included a Q and A from fellow non-pilot and staunch opponent of his confirmation Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. In what seemed to be an attempt to expose Washington’s lack of relevant experience for the job, Cruz asked Washington about the angle of attack sensors on a Boeing 737 MAX and what the correct response would be to disagreement between two sensors.
Washington made a game of it by replying that “human reaction needs to take over,” but had to fold his cards when Cruz pressed him further, saying that he wasn’t a pilot and couldn’t answer the question. Cruz said that was a “fundamental problem” with his nomination.
Washington was also quizzed on his involvement in a corruption investigation while he was head of the Los Angeles transit system and his lack of experience in aviation beyond his last two years as CEO of Denver International Airport. Democrats were anticipating the rough ride and circled the wagons around Washington, spinning his lack of direct involvement with aviation as a positive, theoretically making him less likely to be aligned or swayed by any of the many interest groups or companies in the industry.
Aside from the partisan hyperbole, a potential sticking point for his nomination concerning his military career was raised. The FAA administrator is, by law, required to be a “civilian” and Washington spent 24 years in the Army. If it’s determined he’s not a civilian he’ll need a waiver from the House and the Senate for the process to continue and the Republican majority in the House is likely to quash the nomination.
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