Cantwell Opposes Confirmation of Stephen Dickson as FAA Administrator

July 5, 2019

Senator Cantwell, the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, today released the following statement regarding the nomination of Stephen Dickson.

“Stephen Dickson has had a long career in both the Air Force and at Delta Air Lines. I have no doubt he has the basic knowledge and technical qualifications to serve as FAA Administrator. Indeed, I was inclined to support his nomination based on this experience and expertise.

But at this time of unprecedented challenges involving aviation safety, we also need to be absolutely certain that the person chosen to lead the FAA has a clean record on safety, and the ability to help restore the public’s trust in the FAA. Unfortunately, information brought to our committee in recent weeks calls into question the safety culture that existed under Mr. Dickson that allowed a safety whistleblower to be retaliated against. The nominee’s lack of candor about the issue was also troubling.

I recently met with a Delta Air Lines pilot, First Officer Karlene Petitt, who has been flying for 40 years. First Officer Petitt told me she repeatedly raised concerns about the safety culture at Delta to a number of executives, including Mr. Dickson. 

Instead of being celebrated for her potentially life-saving diligence, First Officer Petitt was sent for a compulsory mental health examination with a company-approved psychiatrist who incorrectly diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. This incorrect diagnosis cost her 18 months of flying. The doctor Delta chose for this compulsory exam has a record that includes serious red flags, which deepens my concern about this case.

Mr. Dickson described the decision to refer First Officer Petitt for a compulsory mental health examination as “sound” in his deposition and continued to defend it as recently as last month in written responses to our committee.

In the course of following up on First Officer Petitt’s allegations, Mr. Dickson has answered further questions from our committee, both in writing and verbally, about this case. In these answers, he repeatedly sought to minimize his role in this extremely troubling episode. However, the written record produced by First Officer Petitt and her legal team contradicts the picture Mr. Dickson has sought to paint of minimal involvement.

Given the urgent need for stronger safety culture and transparency throughout the FAA, these incidents do not paint the picture of the type of leadership that we need. Mr. Dickson’s oversight of these matters raises serious questions about his leadership, and therefore I will not support his nomination.”