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Trump picks Delta veteran to head federal aviation agency

New York

PRESIDENT Donald Trump on Tuesday named Stephen Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines executive, as his choice to become the permanent head of the Federal Aviation Administration, an agency facing scrutiny after two deadly airplane crashes in less than five months.

Mr Dickson will be nominated for the post amid intensifying calls worldwide for the aviation agency to explain its approval of the Boeing 737 Max, the jet involved in the two accidents, an Ethiopian Airlines crash this month and a Lion Air crash in October.

Mr Dickson retired as Delta's senior vice-president of flight operations last autumn after a 27-year career at the company, during which he flew commercial routes and also oversaw safety, pilot training and regulatory compliance. He is a former Air Force officer, Air Force Academy graduate and F-15 fighter pilot, according to Delta.

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"Steve is passionate about safety and has a deep understanding of the needs of the aviation industry and the travelling public," said Michael Huerta, a former FAA administrator picked by President Barack Obama.

The FAA has been run by an acting administrator, Daniel Elwell, since January 2018, when Mr Huerta's term ended. Mr Elwell, a long-time commercial pilot, was previously the agency's deputy administrator, a role Mr Trump chose him for in June 2017.

In the past, Mr Trump toyed with the idea of naming his personal pilot, John Dunkin, as the aviation agency's permanent administrator.

If confirmed by the Senate to a five-year term as the FAA's leader, Mr Dickson will be responsible for guiding the agency's response to criticism of its safety certification process and its response to the Boeing crashes. The agency hesitated to ground the 737 Max even after safety regulators around the world made the move.

On Tuesday, Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, asked the inspector general of her department to conduct an audit of the FAA's certification of the 737 Max 8, which the agency approved in 2017. The FAA also faces questions over why it approved limited training procedures for the Boeing jet, which left pilots unfamiliar with new software in the plane. NYTIMES