Top F.A.A. Official Says He Will Depart, Aggravating Leadership Void

WASHINGTON — The acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, Billy Nolen, on Friday said he will depart this summer, worsening a leadership void at the agency.

The departure of Mr. Nolen, a former pilot and airline industry group executive, was announced in a letter to F.A.A. employees. The move puts added heat on the White House to find a permanent leader for the agency, which is facing an array of safety concerns and staffing challenges.

The aviation regulator has been without permanent leadership since Stephen Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines executive who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump, stepped down a year ago.

Last month, President Biden’s pick to lead the F.A.A., Phillip A. Washington, withdrew his name from consideration after a series of attacks from Republicans on his qualifications to hold the post. They had argued that Mr. Washington, the chief executive of Denver International Airport, lacked sufficient aviation experience, and raised questions about his connection to a corruption investigation in Los Angeles.

​​Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, opposed Mr. Washington’s nomination but suggested that he would support Mr. Nolen as a candidate for the position, citing his long career and expertise. Mr. Nolen was previously the F.A.A.’s associate administrator for aviation safety.

Mr. Nolen’s departure, reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal, comes as the agency faces challenges with flight scheduling, staffing shortages and safety issues, including a series of runway near collisions.

Last month, the F.A.A. issued a safety alert after the near misses calling on airlines to exercise “continued vigilance.” While the agency has not reported a significant increase overall this year in such near collisions, Mr. Nolen acknowledged it was not what the public has “come to expect during a time of unprecedented safety in the U.S. air transportation system.”

An operational meltdown by Southwest Airlines around Christmas and an F.A.A. system outage in January that caused widespread flight disruptions have also raised questions about F.A.A. management. Most recently, a technological issue with Southwest Airlines on Tuesday led to more than 2,000 flights being delayed, representing more than half of its schedule for the day.

Earlier this year, Mr. Nolen said that he was forming a safety review team to examine aviation in the United States, including a look at air traffic systems.

“Billy is a tremendous leader, a true expert, and a dedicated public servant,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement Friday. “He has kept safety as the F.A.A.’s north star through one of the most complex periods in modern aviation.”

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