A former Deputy Administrator with both domestic US and international airline experience, as well as involvement in the emerging eVTOL market, is reportedly a leading candidate to be nominated by President Joe Biden to head the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
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Michael (Mike) Whitaker is currently Chief Operating Officer at Supernal, a Hyundai Company which is developing a vehicle to make Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) “accessible to the masses.” From June 2013 through June 2016, during the Obama Administration, Whitaker was DA and Chief NextGen Officer under FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. Previously, Whitaker spent 20 years in the aviation industry, first as TWA Assistant General Counsel (JD, Georgetown University), then with United Airlines, responsible for alliances, international and regulatory affairs. He was subsequently Group CEO of InterGlobe Enterprises, which owns India’s largest airline, IndiGo. Whitaker also holds a private pilot certificate.
The FAA is in dire need of long-term leadership following the departure of Acting Administrator Billy Nolen, who has been in that role for a little over a year and announced his resignation two weeks ago. At the end of March, Nolen hosted an aviation safety summit after an alarming series of near-misses at airports and in US airspace. The FAA is also under pressure to get a reauthorization bill through the US Congress; current funding expires in September.
Biden’s previous nominee for Administrator, Phillip A. Washington withdrew his name following allegations of improprieties in previous posts.
Kathryn (Katie) Thomson, named FAA Chief of Staff in mid-February, is expected to be tabbed as Acting Administrator. She had been Director, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Implementation at the Department of Transportation (DOT) and before that VP at Amazon.
When Whitaker departed the FAA in 2016, Huerta called him “an invaluable partner… in leading the development of NextGen, integrating drones into the airspace, and working with the general aviation community to make flying safer and more accessible.”
In an NPR interview earlier this year, Whitaker was asked why the FAA has not implemented necessary new technology. “It is a complicated question,” he responded. “They definitely need new investment. They need new technology. They're subject to a funding model that's pretty inconsistent. Congress passes authorizations. They pass budgets. Those are inconsistent. They're not predictable. They're short-term. And then you have things like government shutdowns that interfere with the process. So you need investment. You don't have a stable source of funding. And you need investment not just to keep the current system running, but to accommodate new technologies, like flying air taxis.”
He believes the FAA does have “stable leadership.” Whitaker said, “I think the acting administrator has done a great job. But it is a time of transition - a lot of new startups in this space who are hiring from the FAA. They need to build the bench. So I think it is important to invest in the people as well.”