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Top US air safety regulator to step down in March
Steve Dickson, the top US air safety regulator, whose tenure overlapped a period of extreme upheaval in aviation, will step down next month, citing family reasons, authorities said Thursday.
Dickson plans to leave as chief of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on March 31, more than two years before the end of his five-year term following his 2019 confirmation in the US Senate.
Saying he felt "mixed emotions and a heavy heart," Dickson in a letter to FAA employees alluded to the toll from serving during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"After sometimes long and unavoidable periods of separation from my loved ones during the pandemic... it is time to go home," Dickson said.
A former Air Force pilot, Dickson insisted on personally doing a test flight of the Boeing 737 MAX before the agency recertified the jet in November 2020 following a lengthy grounding after two deadly crashes.
The agency, which had come in for heavy criticism over its handling of the original MAX certification, has continued to closely scrutinize Boeing's operations in the wake of the MAX scandal, most recently with the 787 Dreamliner.
On Tuesday, the FAA said it will perform final inspections on new Boeing 787 planes rather than granting the authority to the company while it addresses various quality management issues.
But Boeing has been far from the only crisis that met Dickson during a period that saw airlines confront an unprecedented slowdown in business during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under Dickson, the FAA has imposed large fines in response to air rage incidents, often involving passengers who refused to follow rules requiring face coverings.
Most recently, he has defended the agency from criticism in Congress after the implementation of 5G telecommunications service was delayed due to the risk the signals could impede flight safety.
Richard Aboulafia, an aviation expert at AeroDynamic Advisory, said Dickson was confronted with an "incredible set" of crises during his tenure.
"He's done very good work in restoring confidence, particularly in keeping international regulatory cooperation," Aboulafia said.
Representative Peter DeFazio, a Democrat who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, issued a statement praising Dickson's service even while acknowledging the two "didn't always see eye to eye."
"President (Joe) Biden must now nominate a new leader committed to the highest standards of aviation safety," DeFazio said.
Among the new leader's priorities should be holding "Boeing accountable for the tragic consequences of their decision to put profits over people when rolling out the 737 MAX" and ensuring "the safe coexistence of 5G wireless service and aviation."