At a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee mark-up today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the committee, delivered remarks opposing Stephen Dickson’s nomination to become the next Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Senator Cantwell cited serious concerns over Mr. Dickson’s handling of a safety whistleblower case involving First Officer Karlene Petitt, a Washington state resident, during his time as a Delta Air Lines executive.
“But since our investigation it is very clear that Mr. Dickson did know, was involved with this pilot, did know what was happening, and failed to disclose it to this committee,” Cantwell said.
While Mr. Dickson was in charge of the flight safety regimen at Delta, Petitt raised a number of safety concerns, including lack of pilot training and pilot rest, to Dickson and other Delta officials. Instead of taking these concerns seriously, Dickson and other executives forced her to undergo a mandatory psychiatric evaluation and removed her from duty.
In her remarks, Cantwell raised concerns with this process and the psychiatrist chosen by Delta:
“And I don’t mean a general retaliation, I mean an absurd retaliation – a retaliation in which she was sent to a psychiatrist who then claimed, just because she juggled marriage, children, and being a pilot, that somehow she must be manic. And she was, because of that action by Delta, removed from flying, even though she had been a pilot for many years – decades,” Cantwell said.
This psychiatrist’s evaluation was later overturned by two exams performed by outside experts, including by a panel of eight doctors from the Mayo Clinic, and First Officer Petitt has returned to duty.
Yesterday, Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, the Hero of the Hudson, announced his opposition to Dickson’s nomination due to this retaliation. Cantwell highlighted Captain Sullenberger’s statement in her remarks to the committee.
“We certainly can’t have organizations who threaten pilots with this kind of retaliation to actually stop them from flying, when in reality they are just reporting what they think are the needed improvements to a safety management system,” Senator Cantwell said. “That is why this nomination has also been objected to by Captain Sullenberger, who has come to the aid of this whistleblower to simply say: ‘pilots have to be listened to.’”
Citing these concerns, among others, Senator Cantwell first announced her opposition to Mr. Dickson’s nomination in a statement last Friday.