Big leadership changes go into effect tomorrow at the drone side of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA announced that Jay Merkle will now be the new head of UAS Integration. Merkle should bring an interesting perspective to the drone-integration world and in particular talks around air traffic management, having previously served as the FAA’s Deputy Vice President for the FAA Air Traffic Organization’s Program Management Office.
During his tenure in that role, he was involved with the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) program. The LAANC program allows drone operators to use an interface (designed by FAA-selected private companies) to request approval to fly in restricted airspace. Operators will then receive approval almost instantly. That instantly speeds up the ability to legally fly in controlled airspace such as near airports — a cumbersome process that had previously required individual applications and took months.
Prior to that, Merkle was a key manager in the FAA’s NextGen Air Transportation System Office.
In another major shakeup, the now-former Executive Director for the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office, Earl Lawrence, will shift roles to become the FAA’s Executive Director for Aircraft Certification.
Both appointments are effective Dec. 9, and both executives will report to FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Ali Bahrami.
It’s still unclear who will be named to the currently vacant position of FAA Chief Administrator. Former AA Administrator Michael Huerta left in January 2018 after 7 years in the role. The current Acting Administrator, Dan Elwell, reportedly backed down from consideration for the permanent position because he lacked the support from some in the White House, including President Donald Trump, according to a report earlier this month in The Wall Street Journal. WSJ also reported that the top contender is likely Steve Dickson, a veteran Delta Air Lines pilot who retired as senior vice president of global flight operations at the airline last month.