DENVER – Phil Washington, the CEO of Denver International Airport and former CEO of the Regional Transportation District, was formally nominated Wednesday by President Joe Biden to be the next administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The move has been anticipated for about a month after The Seattle Times reported in early June the White House would nominate Washington to lead the FAA.
His nomination comes nearly a year to the date Denver City Council voted unanimously to confirm Washington as the airport’s next CEO following his time as the head of the Los Angeles County Transit Authority. He was expected to be with Denver International Airport through the end of Mayor Michael Hancock’s term in June 2023.
Washington led RTD from 2009 to 2015 before taking over in Los Angeles, where he oversaw more than $18 billion in projects and around 11,000 employees.
"Phil's deep expertise in transportation, his service in the military, and his track record helping Americans safely get where they need to go, make him the right leader to help meet today's aviation challenges and prepare for the future," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.
Colorado's U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper hinted they would support Washington in his nomination when the Senate votes whether to confirm him.
"President Biden could not have made a better choice in nominating Phil Washington to run the FAA," Bennet said. "Phil has served Colorado extremely well, and I'm confident he will lead the FAA with integrity."
"Phil Washington will bring an organizational discipline to the FAA during this time of stress and challenge," Hickenlooper said in a statement. "He has translated his successful military career into a level of operational competence rare in any industry sector. He will do great things in his new role."
Steve Dickson, the former FAA administrator, announced in February he was stepping down from the position, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. Washington led the transition transportation team after Biden won the November 2020 election.
This past year was the first Washington was involved in aviation. Over the year, there have been numerous occasions the airport has seen heavy delays, broken down trains, and some progress on the Great Hall Project as traffic there continues to increase year after year.
But Washington also sought to spend more than $1 billion more on the Great Hall Project, which will delay its completion by years.
On Tuesday, the trains to the gates were “temporarily stopped” for about half an hour, leading to heavy delays for people who needed to catch the train to their terminal. Some reported missing flights.
In August, emergency repairs at DIA reduced capacity at the trains and created a 10-hour delay for travelers getting from the terminal to the concourses. After the repairs were complete, the airport said in a statement: "We are committed to exploring options to provide alternate ways to move passengers between the terminal and concourses and improving our process when incidents like this occur." Buses transported passengers while the repairs were made.
Washington addressed the August issue in the fall of 2021 during a press conference about solutions to improve the airport. He said he directed a request for information to the private sector on how to resolve the issue of broken trains at the airport.
"I think we have to understand and do a cost-benefit analysis to say, do you spend $200 or $300 million to do a walkway or a tunnel or something like that?" Washington said in October. "You have to do a cost-benefit analysis to say, you've had this happen once in 26 years. Do you spend that money to solve something that is like the 100-year flood?"
The airport got city council approval last month to issue around $4 billion in bonds to help refinance debt and pay for remaining phases of the Great Hall Project and gate expansions, as The Denver Post reported.
Washington will still have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines executive, was confirmed in July 2019, under former President Donald Trump, in a 52-40 vote, with no Democratic senators voting in his favor.
If he is confirmed, Washington will have to deal with airline staffing shortages and airline executives who have put the blame for delays on shortages of air traffic controllers.
"I am hopeful that he will be confirmed swiftly by the Senate so that he can accept this new post and begin his work with the FAA leadership team, where current Acting Administrator Billy Nolen, Deputy Administrator Brad Mims, and other key leaders have been doing excellent work guiding the agency through recent months," Buttigieg said.