No. 2 Official at Transportation Department Is Named F.A.A.’s Interim Leader

The News

Polly Trottenberg, the deputy U.S. transportation secretary and a former New York City transportation commissioner, has been named the interim leader of the Federal Aviation Administration, the latest attempt by the Biden administration to fill the leadership void atop the nation’s federal air safety regulator.

Why It Matters: The F.A.A. lacks permanent leadership.

The move comes after President Biden’s nominee to lead the F.A.A., Phillip A. Washington, withdrew from consideration in March. He had faced criticism from Republican senators and struggled to win support to be confirmed.

The F.A.A. has been without permanent leadership since Stephen Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines executive and appointee of President Donald J. Trump, stepped down in 2022. Ms. Trottenberg, 59, will succeed the F.A.A.’s acting administrator, Billy Nolen, who had previously been the agency’s top safety official. Mr. Nolen announced in April that he planned to step down.

Ms. Trottenberg will take the helm of the F.A.A. during a tumultuous period for both the agency and the U.S. air travel system.

During the past year, pilots have narrowly avoided collisions at U.S. airports on multiple occasions, and travelers have suffered through a raft of delays and cancellations. Southwest Airlines had an operational meltdown around Christmas, and in January, problems with a critical F.A.A. system forced flights to be grounded nationwide.

This year is also a critical one for the F.A.A. because Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to reauthorize the agency, giving lawmakers an opportunity to shape its programs and budget for the coming years.

Background: Trottenberg is a transportation veteran.

Ms. Trottenberg has been the Transportation Department’s No. 2 official for most of the Biden administration — a fractious time for the relationship between U.S. airlines and the federal government.

Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, has called on the airlines to provide better customer service, such as by eliminating extra fees for families to sit together on plane trips. At the same time, airlines and airport personnel have complained about air traffic controller shortages, unfair competition from certain Asian and Middle Eastern airlines on long-haul routes, and legal limitations on some direct flights from the East Coast.

Previously, Ms. Trottenberg served under Mayor Bill de Blasio as New York City’s transportation commissioner from 2014 to 2020. In that role, she oversaw the city’s Vision Zero program to reduce traffic fatalities, and she expanded bike and bus lanes.

She was also a top transportation official in the Obama administration, serving as an assistant secretary at the Transportation Department and then as the department’s under secretary for policy. She has worked as a Senate aide as well.

What’s Next: Biden needs a new nominee.

It is unclear how long Ms. Trottenberg will serve as the F.A.A.’s acting administrator. The White House has yet to name a new nominee to lead the agency.

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Mark Walker is an investigative reporter in the Washington bureau. He was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Covid-19 in 2020. He grew up in Savannah, Ga., and graduated from Fort Valley State University. @bymarkwalker

Kate Kelly covers money, influence, and policy as a correspondent in the Washington bureau of the Times. Before that, she spent twenty years covering Wall Street deals, key players and their intersection with politics. She is the author of three books, including “The Education of Brett Kavanaugh.” @katekelly

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