Scope of the Position:

The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration oversees the largest air transportation system in the world, encompassing a workforce of around 47,000 employees. During this five-year appointment, the Administrator ensures civilian air safety, in part through the allocation of funds, which was approximately $16.4 billion as of FY 2015. Recent developments in aerospace technology have led Agency efforts to transition from the use of ground-based radar to satellite technology. This project, known as the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), highlights the Administrator's work with aviation procedures and modernization.

Illustrative Management Challenges:

There continue to be calls in Congress to privatize the FAA, although the Administration will be funded until September 2017.1 The House has made its preference for the movement to a privatized aviation workforce clear, but the Senate has decided not to address this desire as of yet. In addition, there are rising safety concerns surrounding the operation of drones. Specifically, the Administration will explore ways to spot rogue drone operations that may collide with planes around airports.2 Similarly, there are concerns from the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Inspector General's Office as to the readiness of the Administration to handle the increase in Aviation Controller retirements as the workforce continues to age. The IG has noted that the "FAA has not yet established an effective process for balancing training requirements with pending retirements when managing its controller resources at its critical facilities."3 Furthermore, as the FAA has 13 of the 23 critical facilities below the facilities' planned staffing range, there should be an effort to bolster America's air control system to at least the levels that the FAA internally deems acceptable. Addressing these concerns will be part of the Administrator's job moving forward.

     Sources:

     1Senate, House Clash Over Privatizing FAA; www.govexec.com; April 20, 2016.
     2Worried that drones might strike airplanes, FAA seeks airport detection system; www.washingtonpost.com; May 17, 2016.
     3FAA Continues to Face Challenges in Ensuring Fully Trained Controllers at Critical Facilities; www.oig.dot.gov; January 11, 2016.

      

FAA Administrators:

One common trait of each recent FAA Administrator is experience in the transportation industry. However, those experiences vary greatly from person to person. For instance, some have held positions as pilots in the Air Force and with commercial airlines. Others have served on various transportation boards, and some have even been responsible for the operation of large international airports.

Current Incumbent:

Michael P. Huerta (2013-Present): From 2002-2009, Huerta held senior leadership positions at Affiliated Computer Services. He previously held executive leadership positions in other cities, including a stint serving in the U.S. Department of Transportation and as the Managing Director of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Huerta began his career as the commissioner of New York City's Department of Ports, International Trade, and Commerce in 1986.Huerta received his master's degree in public affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Previous Administrators:

Randolph Babbitt (2009-2011): Babbitt served as a director of Access National Bank before heading to the FAA in 2009. He also founded a consulting group dedicated to the problems found in the aviation industry. Babbitt spent a quarter-century as a commercial pilot, eventually becoming the Executive Administrator of the Air Line Pilots Association Union in 1985; in 1990, he became its President.

Lynne Osmus (Acting) (2009): Prior to her appointment as Acting Administrator, Osmus was designated as the "transition" executive for President Obama's Transition team in 2008. She joined the FAA in 1979 and served in executive positions starting in 1990, including as the Assistant Administrator for Security and Hazardous Waste Materials.

Robert Sturgell (Acting) (2007-2009): Since leaving the position of FAA Administrator, Sturgell has become both the Senior Vice President of Washington Operations and an Executive Officer of Rockwell Collins. Before joining the FAA, he was a practitioner of aviation law in Washington, D.C., and previously was a commercial pilot for United Airlines. Sturgell served as a Top Gun instructor when he was a naval aviator and is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law.

Marion Blakey (2002-2007): Blakey is currently the President and CEO of Rolls-Royce North America, in addition to being the Chair of the Rolls-Royce North America Board of Directors. She served nearly eight years as the President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA). Before coming to the FAA, Blakey was the Chairman for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Jane Garvey (1997-2002): She currently serves as the Chairman of Meridiam Infrastructure for North America. Garvey has served in several different executive leadership positions in several different industries, including Executive Director of JP Morgan Securities' Infrastructure Advisory Group. She was the first female FAA Administrator. Prior to joining the FAA, Garvey held many different positions in the transportation realm, including Director of Logan International Airport, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Works, and Deputy Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Barry L. Valentine (Acting) (1997): Valentine joined the FAA in 1994 as Assistant Administrator for Policy, Planning, and International Aviation. He spent over 40 years in the aviation arena, including over 3,000 hours flying for the U.S. Air Force. Valentine also served as the Director of the Portland (Maine) International Jetport and the Director of Aeronautics for the Maine Department of Transportation. Valentine was elected to the Maine House of Representatives, served as Chief of Staff to the majority party in the Maine Legislature, and was on the staff of the U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.

David R. Hinson (1993-1996): Prior to serving as the FAA Administrator, Hinson served as the Executive Vice President for marketing and business development for the now-defunct aircraft maker McDonnell Douglas. He was also co-founder, Chairman, and CEO of Midway Airlines, founder of Hinson-Mennella, Inc., the Director of Flight Standards for Air West, and a pilot in different capacities for both Northwest Airlines and United Airlines.

Additional Resources:

https://www.faa.gov/about/key_officials/huerta/ 
http://www.govexec.com/management/2016/04/senate-house-clash-over-privatizing-faa/127665/ 
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/worried-that-drones-might-strike-airplanes-faa-seeks-airport-detection-system/2016/05/17/92fb76d8-1c3c-11e6-9c81-4be1c14fb8c8_story.html 
https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/FAA-FY2015-Budget-Estimates.pdf 
https://www.oig.dot.gov/sites/default/files/FAA%20Controller%20Staffing%20at%20Critical%20Facilities%5E1-11-16.pdf