FAAtal Attraction

“Mr. Washington, can you quickly tell me what kind of airspace requires an ADS-B transponder?” said Senator Ted Budd in a March 1 hearing with Phillip Washington, Joe Biden’s pick to head the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

Not sure I can answer that question right now,” said Washington. Budd said the answer was a “pretty important part” but quickly moved on. 

“What are the six types of special-use airspace that protect this national security that appear on FAA charts?”

“Sorry senator,” Washington said. “I cannot answer that question.” Budd duly advanced another. 

“What are the operational limitations of a pilot flying under basic med?”

“Senator I’m not a pilot so . . .”

“Obviously you’d oversee the Federal Aviation Administration,” countered Budd, “so any idea what any of those restrictions are under basic med?”

“Well, some of the restrictions, I think, would be high blood pressure.” 

As Senator Budd explained, the restrictions had to do with the number of passengers per airplane, weight, altitude, and speed. So “it doesn’t have anything to do with blood pressure.” 

Budd pressed on. “Can you tell me what causes an aircraft to spin or to stall?”

“Again senator I’m not a pilot,” Washington responded. Budd then wondered if the Biden nominee knew the three certifications the FAA requires as part of the manufacturing process.

“Again what I would say, one of my first priorities would be to fully implement the certification act.” Budd wanted to know if the nominee could specifically name the three types of FAA certification. 

“No,” Washington said. Budd helpfully identified them as “type certificate, production certificate, airworthiness certificate,” adding “let’s just keep going, see if we can get lucky here.”

“Can you tell me what the minimum separation distance is for landing and departing airliners during the daytime?”

“I don’t want to guess on that, senator,” the Biden FAA nominee said. Budd then asked Washington if he was familiar with the difference between FAA regulations 107 and part 44809 regarding unmanned aircraft such as drones.

“Yes,” said the nominee, but when Budd pressed him on the difference, Washington said “I cannot spell that out.” 

For all but the willfully blind, the Biden pick is unqualified to head the FAA. So the people have a right to wonder how he got tapped for the job. 

In 2020, “Washington led Biden’s transition team for the Transportation Department,” notes National Public Radio. The Delaware Democrat first nominated Washington in early July, 2022, “but he failed to get a hearing even though Democrats controlled the Senate.” Biden re-nominated Washington in January, so it’s pretty clear the FAA was a reward for service to Biden. 

Phillip Washington earned a B.A. in Business from Columbia College, and an M.A. in Management from Webster University. The Army veteran has experience in transportation but nothing specifically in aviation. 

The Biden pick told the Senate Commerce Committee that safety would be his top priority. If the nominee engaged in any study or preparation it wasn’t evident on March 1. As it happens, that dismal performance was not the only concern.

Washington headed the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority for six years. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department wanted to know why the authority awarded a no-bid “sole-source” contract for a sexual harassment hotline to the Peace Over Violence organization. Phillip Washington was the subject of a search warrant and so was LA County Supervisor Sheila Keuhl, a close friend of Peace Over Violence CEO Patti Giggins, and one once a national figure of sorts.

Born in 1941, Keuhl was an actress on “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” on television from 1959 to 1963.  Keuhl played Zelda Gilroy, a rival to Thalia Menninger (Tuesday Weld) for the affections of Dobie, played by Dwayne Hickman. Weld and others in the cast carried on in show business but Keuhl opted for law school and politics. 

Keuhl served in the California State Assembly from 1994-2000 and the state Senate from 2000-2008. Sen. Keuhl authored a bill for a massive government monopoly health care system (SB 840) that was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Keuhl said the governor was “angry” and “childish.” For her part, the former actress never became a political star on the national scene. 

Keuhl moved on to the LA Board of Supervisors and also served on the LA Metro Transportation Board. She claimed the no-bid Peace Over Violence contract did not involve her and called the search a “thuggish attempt to intimidate and silence not just me but many other public servants.” Phil Washington told reporters “all the allegations are false,”  but the matter did not end there.

Senator Ted Cruz cited “serious concerns regarding outstanding allegations of misconduct going back to Mr. Washington’s time at LA Metro. He was named in multiple search warrants in an ongoing criminal public corruption investigation and was the subject of multiple whistleblower complaints.” Washington was also named in a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by a former Denver airport employee. 

As Cruz noted, the nominee’s failure to notify the committee of that lawsuit was one of “dozens of omissions” in his questionnaire. In Denver, Washington had stressed “sociocultural merits” and on March 1, despite ample time to prepare, the nominee failed to answer basic questions about airport safety. For Biden, Washington was fully qualified, and in a sense the Delaware Democrat is right. 

At all levels the various boards and commissions serve as soft landing spots for failed politicians, party hacks and bureaucrats. Witness the pathetic Pete Buttigieg, on “paternity leave” during a supply-chain crisis, and ignoring a toxic train derailment in Ohio. In similar style, Biden labor secretary nominee Julie Su enabled billions in unemployment fraud and supports the elimination of independent freelance workers. 

California’s High Speed Rail Authority has yet to carry a passenger, but its board is home to Lynn Schenk, a former member of Congress and chief of staff to California Governor Gray Davis. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state’s stem-cell institute, hired former state senator Art Torres, a lawyer—this despite the fact that a person with biomedical experience was willing to serve for no salary. Torres, a Democrat, also serves on the board of Covered California, a wholly owned subsidiary of Obamacare. And so on. 

Biden FAA nominee Phillip Washington said he wasn’t a pilot and that proves revealing. Before they are allowed to fly airliners with hundreds of passengers, pilots must pass the most rigorous medical and aviation safety tests. Consider, for example, Chesley Sullenberger, captain of US Airways flight 1549.

On January 15, 2009, after a bird strike shut down his engines, captain “Sully” safely landed an Airbus A320 on the Hudson River, saving the lives of everybody on board, 155 people all told. The Federal Aviation Administration quickly charged that Sullengerger should have turned back to La Guardia, in which case, as accurate simulations confirmed, the plane would have crashed and 155 people would have died.  

Pilot Sullenberger was more concerned about saving lives than the regulations of bureaucrats of the FAA. Under the unqualified Phillip Washington, that body would be even more wasteful and ineffective than it already is. The Senate has plenty to ponder, and if anybody thought Joe Biden doesn’t care about the safety of the people it would be hard to blame them. 

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About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images