Did Trump’s nominee for FAA really care about Delta Airlines safety? Stephen Dickson FAA appointment

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In March U.S. President Donald Trump proudly announced the appointment of former chief of flight operations for Delta Air Lines Stephen Dickson to run the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

At the time of Trump’s announcement, FAA was already under scrutiny for allowing the troubled Boeing 737 MAX 8 to carry passengers. The scrutiny may get a lot worse if Trump nominee Stephen Dickson was actually confirmed to lead FAA.  According to the FAA website, the mission statement of this government organization is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell representing the State of Washington, the home of Boeing, agreed and said on Friday, she didn’t want Stephen Dickson to be confirmed and will oppose the nomination for Dickson to take the helm of FAA.

The issue: If Dickson was not able to ensure safety compliance at Delta Airlines, how could he lead the U.S. aviation regulator in charge of aviation safety for the entire country?

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Delta pilot whistleblower – Karlene Petitt

Cantwell bases her opposition on Dickson’s defense of a decision to compel a Delta pilot whistleblower – Karlene Petitt – to mandatory psychiatric evaluation after she provided him with a 45-page Safety Report identifying violations of federal aviation standards.  Although it became an 18-month ordeal, Ms. Petitt was vindicated by the evaluation process and currently flies Boeing 777 aircraft for Delta.

Administrative Law Judge Scott Morris, who is reviewing Petitt’s action for damages, observed that he was “really troubled” by the case and that Delta should think “long and hard about settling this.”

CNN broke the story of Dickson’s failure to disclose the related whistleblower litigation; however, to date, there has been no analysis of safety issues identified by Ms. Petitt or Dickson’s failure to respond even where she presented what Dickson agreed was evidence of pilot “helplessness” and “lack of operational control.”  Significantly, an FAA investigation of Ms. Petitt’s whistleblower action “substantiated that a violation of an order, regulation or standard of the FAA related to air carrier safety occurred.”

A few examples of the disturbing flight operations issues identified by Petitt, and Dickson’s inaction, include the following:

*          A pilot describing the deployment of unorthodox landing procedures to land the aircraft and concluding “we don’t know why and just lucked out.  Any idea?”  (Safety Report at 6).  Captain Dickson agreed that this pilot communication conveyed a “lack of operational control” and “helplessness.”  (Dickson Dep. at 117).  Dickson further testified that he hoped that Delta “would have followed upon it with the normal process,” but conceded that he did not know whether Delta investigated this issue and that he did not ask Ms. Petitt who the pilot was.  (Dickson Dep. at 118-19).

*          A pilot reporting that, during takeoff, “Alpha floor suspected but not observed,” with the pilot concluding:  “Not sure what happened….”  (Safety Report at 6).  Captain Dickson agreed that the report was a source of concern insofar as it indicated that the pilot might execute an “inappropriate recovery procedure.”  (Dickson Dep. at 120-21).  Dickson concurred that the incident possibly reflected a need for pilot refresher training.  (Id. at 121-22).  However, Dickson did not ask Petitt to identify the pilot in question.  (Id. at 122).

*          “During OE [a training operating experience] the wheels fell of when on my first leg [Check Airman] Albain told me to go vertical speed on the descent into DTW.  I was high and that just made it worse.  WTF?”  (Petitt Decl. B at DA-00013). Dickson testified that vertical speed was “not typically a mode” that would be deployed under the described circumstances and agreed that the activation of vertical speed “could lead to an unstable approach” and “overshooting the runway or missing an altitude restriction.”  (Dickson Dep. at 129-30).  According to Dickson, Albain’s actions during OE training event “may have been a poor instructional technique or an ill-timed directive….”  (Dickson Dep. at 132).

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SOURCE: Lee Seham, Esq

Author: Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977). He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.

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