By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chair on Thursday said Republicans will not grant a waiver to allow President Joe Biden's pick to head the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Republicans have said Biden's nominee Phil Washington needs a waiver because he does not qualify as a civilian under the law. Washington, the Denver International Airport chief executive, was nominated in July but the Senate Commerce Committee has yet to hold a hearing.
"The FAA is running on autopilot. You can only run on autopilot so long before you run out of gas, you wake up and your over Utah," said Representative Sam Graves, a Republican who heads the committee overseeing the FAA.
Republicans have harshly criticized the FAA after the Notice to Air Missions pilot messaging database failed, which led to a more than 90-minute nationwide grounding of planes on Jan. 11 that disrupted more than 11,000 flights, the first such halt since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"You want to talk about crippling the country and showing our enemies just how vulnerable we are," Graves said of the NOTAM outage. "They've got to get their act together, they've really do, they've got to modernize their processes and their system."
The NOTAM system provides pilots, flight crews and other users of U.S. airspace with critical safety notices.
Graves said the FAA needs to fill key leadership positions and said Washington does not have enough aviation experience to serve as FAA administrator. Before being named to run the Denver Airport in 2021 did not have any significant aviation experience, Republicans complain. The FAA has been without a permanent administrator since March 31, 2022.
Senator Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, who earlier expressed "skepticism" about Washington due to his "lack of experience in aviation," told Reuters in December that he thought the nomination should not be approved.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer earlier this month urged speedy action on Washington's nomination. "With recent events, including airline troubles and (the NOTAM outage), this agency needs a leader confirmed by the Senate immediately."
Congress plans to take up the issue and whether the FAA needs more money to modernize various computer systems this year. Congress must reauthorize the FAA by Sept. 30.
(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul and Diane Craft)