FAA Administrator Steve Dickson is stepping down at the end of March.
Dickson made the announcement in an email to Federal Aviation Administration employees at the end of February, stating that he’s ready to move on from the role and head home to his family in Atlanta, Georgia. His last day will be March 31, 2022, cutting short what was supposed to be a five-year term. Dickson assumed the role in July 2019, though he has had 43 years of experience in the aviation industry and more than two years leading the agency.
FAA chief Steve Dickson had previously been a key leader at Delta Air Lines, where he had spent the past nearly three decades. He graduated from the Class of 1979 at the United States Air Force Academy as well as Georgia State University College of Law. While on active duty, he flew the T-38 Talon supersonic jet trainer and F-15 Eagle fighter jet.
While Dickson’s role had massive scope — overseeing all aviation in the U.S. — he kept drones high on his list of action items.
“AUVSI thanks Administrator Dickson for his service, leadership, and dedication to aviation safety,” according to a statement from Brian Wynne, the President and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). “As he stated in his departure letter, ‘The agency is in a better place than it was two years ago, and we are positioned for great success,’ and I couldn’t agree more. As a member of the FAA’s Management Advisory Council (MAC), I had the opportunity firsthand to watch the serious nature of Administrator Dickson’s attention to detail and focus on safety.”
Here were his biggest impacts in the drone industry:
Arguably the biggest change in the drone industry during Dickson’s tenure was the FAA Final Rule for Remote ID. Announced in December 2020 and put into effect in April 2021, the new final rules provide a structure for remotely identifying drones in flight and the location of their control stations, with a mission to reduce the risk of drones interfering with each other, other aircraft or posing a risk to people and property on the ground.
The rule states that all drones that require FAA registration are now also subject to Remote ID compliance.
Along with the Remote ID drop, the rule created opportunities to legally fly over people and over moving vehicles, and made it easier to fly drones at night.
It also did away with the requirement to complete an in-person, FAA recurrent test every two years has been replaced with a much simpler requirement that you pass a free, online recurrent training course. Learn more about the FAA’s recurrent drone training program course is like (and how to access it) here.
Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations has been among one of the other hot topics during Dickson’s time in the role. To better understand that, the FAA in June 2021 announced its new BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to help the FAA develop a regulatory path for routine BVLOS operations. Dickson has been known to dislike the current state of BVLOS policy, referring to it as a “drag” and calling it “inefficient.”
Hobby drone operators also got acknowledgement by Dickson and his team. In June 2021, the FAA launched the Recreational Unmanned Aircraft Systems Safety Test (TRUST), the test launched in June 2021. That test was part of a mandate that all drone operators — regardless of whether they were flying for commercial or hobby purposes — need to pass a test in order to legally fly most drones in the U.S.
“Administrator Dickson regularly engaged with the drone and AAM industries to provide updates on shared priorities and share insights from his unique position atop the FAA,” Wynne said.
Beyond his work in the drone industry, Dickson came in to the FAA just after the wake of the two Boeing 737 Max crashes, which brought massive turmoil to the aviation world and grounded Boeing’s 737 Max jet for almost two years.
He was faced with keeping skies open and operational during the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted in-person work causing a labor shortage, initiated the need for new airline safety regulations and brought travel restrictions. Meanwhile, the pandemic also brought a severe decline in commercial air traffic, yet an uptick in unruly passengers.
Also during Dickson’s tenure, the FAA created a Women in Aviation Advisory Board, to provide the FAA with recommendations on better supporting women’s involvement in aviation. Dickson backed the group’s importance.
“We must find ways to inspire women and young people to enter the aviation profession,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson in a prepared statement at the launch of the program. “We need pilots, mechanics, engineers and many other professionals to enter the aviation profession pipeline.”