A veteran airline pilot praised and criticized for his agency's handling of Boeing after two 737 MAX crashes, FAA chief Steve Dickson has resigned.
Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson told staff late Wednesday that he is resigning after just over two-and-a-half years in the post for personal and family reasons.
Citing “mixed emotions and a heavy heart,” his memo to staff said the decision was difficult.
“Over the past several years, my family has been a source of tremendous encouragement, strength and support,” Dickson wrote. “Nevertheless, after sometimes long and unavoidable periods of separation from my loved ones during the pandemic, it is time to devote my full time and attention to them. As I wrote in my letter to President Biden, it is time to go home.”
With his family, including a new grandson, in Georgia and Florida, Dickson has been living apart from them in D.C. for most of the pandemic. He made the decision to resign over the Christmas holiday and told the Department of Transportation last month, said a person familiar with the details.
Appointed FAA Administrator in August 2019 after the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes, Dickson has had to steer the agency through a storm of criticism over the agency’s failures in oversight during certification of that jet.
Early in his tenure, Boeing prodded the agency with repeated public statements claiming the FAA would soon approve the MAX’s return to service. In November 2019, Dickson pushed back by making public a video in which he spoke directly to the FAA safety engineers making the evaluation of Boeing’s fix.
“I know there’s a lot of pressure to return this aircraft to service quickly,” Dickson said in the video. “But I want you to know that I want you to take the time you need and focus solely on safety. I’ve got your back.”
His public rebuke the following month of Boeing’s then-CEO Dennis Muilenburg for appearing to pressure the FAA on the return to service led directly to the Boeing board’s loss of confidence in Muilenburg and his firing later that month.
Nevertheless, Dickson has endured tough personal criticism by senior members of Congress.
Last week, U.S. House Transportation chair Rep. DeFazio, D-Ore., and aviation subcommittee chair Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, complained to the Department of Transportation Inspector General about what they considered “a disappointing response” from Dickson to their concerns about lack of FAA action to hold Boeing accountable for the MAX failures.
In November he was aggressively grilled in a U.S. Senate hearing and forced to defend his agency against charges that it’s been too slow to implement aviation safety reforms and fix its oversight of Boeing.
In his departure note to staff, Dickson claimed substantial progress in those reforms and improvements in safety.
“The agency is in a better place than it was two years ago, and we are positioned for great success,” the memo said. “It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve alongside you.”
Dickson is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Georgia State University College of Law. In the Air Force, he flew the T-38 Talon supersonic jet trainer and F-15 Eagle fighter jet.
After the military, he spent nearly three decades at Delta Air Lines, retiring as the senior vice president of flight operations.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or email@example.com; on Twitter: @dominicgates.