Billy Nolen named acting FAA Administrator

Billy Nolen named acting FAA Administrator

Just about a month after we got news that Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Steve Dickson would be stepping down at the end of March, the FAA announced who would serve as the interim replacement. Billy Nolen is set to serve as acting FAA Administrator, the U.S. Department of Transportation said this week.

Alongside Billy Nolen, some of Dickson’s responsibilties will also be doled out to Deputy Administrator Bradley Mims, who will primarily focus on the FAA’s workforce and the nation’s airports.

“Billy Nolen has extensive expertise in aviation and a deep understanding of the vital role the FAA plays in ensuring the safety of the traveling public,” said U.S Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a prepared statement. “We are grateful to Steve for his service and to Billy and Brad for stepping up to lead the FAA during this critical time.”

Billy Nolen

Who is Billy Nolen?

Billy Nolen’s background is rooted primarily in commercial airlines, and he has a strong background when it comes to aviation safety — something the FAA has long emphasized.

Nolen began his professional career in 1989 as a pilot for American Airlines, and later was promoted to manage the carrier’s Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP). He continued rising through the management ranks to become the airline’s managing director for corporate safety and regulatory affairs.

Nolen since worked in safety leadership positions at numerous other airlines, including Qantas Airways, where he was executive manager for group safety and health between 2018 and 2019. Prior to that, he was senior vice president for safety, security and operations at Airlines for America, a trade group that represents the airlines. And in 2020, he moved to WestJet Airlines in Canada, where he was vice president for Safety, Security and Quality.

He has been the FAA’s Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety since January 2022, a role where he leads a team of more than 7,600 employees throughout all aspects of aviation safety.

In addition to his professional aviation experience, Nolen served tours of duty in the U.S. Army as an airplane and helicopter pilot and safety officer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, as well as specialized aviation safety management certificates from the University of Southern California, United States Army Safety Center and the United States Navy Postgraduate School.

Who is Bradley Mims?

Bradley Mims. Photo courtesy of FAA.

FAA Deputy Administrator Bradley Mims has workd for the past 40 years in both public and private secotr transportation. He served at the FAA under the Clinton Administration, as President and CEO of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) and most recently is FAA Deputy Administrator within the Biden-Harris Administration. 

What the future holds for FAA leadership

Dickson announced in February that he would step down from his post as administrator after leading the agency for more than two and a half years. His departure cut short what was supposed to be a five-year term (Dickson assumed the role in July 2019).

Billy Nolen will be serving as acting FAA Administrator, which means he is just in the top leadership role temporarily. In the meantime, the Biden-Harris Administration is conducting a national search for a nominee to become the permanent FAA Administrator. That appointee carries a five-year term and must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

It remains to be seen how Nolen and Mims will handle the drone industry’s position within the drone industry. The coming years are set to be pivotal for the U.S. drone industry, especially in terms of BVLOS operations. The FAA’s Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) final report was published earlier this month, which includes a proposed, new Part 108. Meanwhile, drone investments are at record highs, and many drone delivery companies including Wing, Flytrex and Manna are eager to expand their U.S. operations.

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