Aviation veteran Billy Nolan tapped as FAA acting Administrator

FAA Administrator Nolan

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced that air industry veteran Billy Nolan has been named to serve as acting administrator when the agency’s outgoing chief Steve Dickson steps down at the end of the month.

Nolan will be moving into the interim Administrator role from his position as the FAA’s Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, which he assumed in January. In that role, Nolan has overseen a team of more than 7,600 employees responsible for the complete span of aviation safety concerns. Nolan previously worked for several commercial airlines and served tours of duty in the US Army as an airplane and helicopter pilot and safety officer.

Nolan will take the reins from the outgoing Dickson, a Trump appointee who in February announced he’d be stepping down halfway through his five-year mandate to spend more time with his family. 

As part of its announcement, the FAA said Deputy Administrator Bradley Mims will also take on an expanded role during the interim period, with a particular focus on the agency’s workforce and the nation’s airports. 

It is unknown whether President Joe Biden will decide to put Nolan’s name forward for the permanent FAA Administrator position, whose nominees must be appointed by the US Senate. But in appointing him to the interim spot, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg praised Nolan’s qualifications.

“Billy Nolen has extensive expertise in aviation and a deep understanding of the vital role the FAA plays in ensuring the safety of the traveling public,” Buttigieg said. “We are grateful to Steve for his service and to Billy and Brad for stepping up to lead the FAA during this critical time.” 

A Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics graduate from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Nolan has worked in air safety positions for Qantas Airways and American Airlines. He entered the industry in 1989 as a pilot for American, earning type ratings on Boeing 757, 767, and McDonnell Douglas MD-80 aircraft. He later managed the airline’s Aviation Safety Action Program, eventually rising to the post of managing director for corporate safety and regulatory affairs.

In 2015, Nolen became senior vice president for safety, security, and operations at the airlines’ trade organization Airlines for America. From 2018 to 2019 he served as executive manager for group safety and health at Qantas, before moving to WestJet.

Mims has worked in transport roles in both the private and public sectors for four decades and has served in leadership roles in both the public and private sectors. He first served at the FAA under the Clinton administration and has played a vital role as FAA Deputy Administrator in the Biden era.

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