FAA Lead Nominee Faces Scrutiny After Alleged Mishandling of Airline Safety Concerns

Jul 7, 2019

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Steven Dickson’s nomination to lead the FAA has raised concerns with a number of senators during his confirmation hearings, according to a report by AP. The issue arises from Dickson’s time at Delta Air Lines.

During his tenure, a pilot filed a safety complaint with the airline over possible fatigue issues for pilots. The pilot, Karlene Petitt, was subsequently referred to a psychiatrist selected by Delta who diagnosed her with Bipolar Disorder, leading to her being grounded for more than a year. Petitt claims that the referral, diagnosis and eventual grounding were in retaliation to her raising safety concerns about Delta policies around fatigued pilots flying. Petitt’s diagnosis was later overturned by the Mayo Clinic and an independent psychiatrist. Petitt is once again flying for Delta.

Dickson, who was the top executive for flight operations at Delta in 2016 when Petitt raised concerns, met with Petitt about her report and approved her psychiatric review. Petitt is now suing Delta in a case being heard by a Labor Department judge. Some senators have expressed concern over Dickson’s failure to disclose the case to the subcommittee.

The FAA investigated Petitt’s complaints at the time and has notified her that they are opening another investigation to review whether or not Delta failed to meet FAA standards for a safety management system, something that Dickson would have been responsible for as the head of flight operations during his tenure at Delta.

The FAA is one of the world’s leading organizations when it comes to safety of commercial aviation. Recent issues around certification of the Boeing 737 MAX has led to questions about how the FAA handles safety concerns. The failure on Dickson’s part to have a robust safety management program in place at Delta raises concerns about how he might deal with safety issues as the person in charge of the already-embattled FAA.

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