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The head of the US Federal Aviation Administration, who oversaw the safest period in the history of commercial flight in the United States, will step down at midnight Saturday, but the White House has not indicated that it has a permanent replacement for him in mind.
Michael Huerta’s retirement comes as no surprise: An Obama appointee, he had long said he would step down at the end of his five-year term. He was named the FAA boss when his predecessor, Randy Babbitt, resigned in 2011 after being charged with DUI (the charges were later dismissed). Huerta wasn’t confirmed until the very end of 2012, finally being sworn in a week later.
During his tenure, federally regulated airlines experienced the safest years on record, with no fatalities from crashes of US passenger jets and the only airline deaths on US soil coming from an Asiana Airlines flight, a 777 owned and operated by the South Korean carrier, that crashed in San Francisco in 2013. President Trump highlighted part of that accomplishment — though he took credit for it himself — in a Jan. 2 tweet where he called 2017 the “best and safest year on record,” adding that he’d been “very strict on Commercial Aviation.” (He did not specify what that meant, and aviation safety had been exceptional long before he took office. The president does however have a lengthy history of tweeting about aviation.)
Despite that, the White House hasn’t said who it’s considering to replace Huerta permanently.
“I don’t have any personnel announcements on that front,” spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
Until a permanent replacement is named, confirmed and sworn in, the acting FAA head is expected to be Daniel Elwell, a respected veteran of the aviation industry who has been deputy administration since June. Elwell, who’d previously served at the FAA during the administration of George W. Bush, is a former Air Force and commercial pilot and is a familiar face in the airline industry.
The FAA did not immediately return requests for comment.
Featured image courtesy of Ethan Miller/Getty Images.
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