President Donald Trump’s personal pilot, John Dunkin, is being considered as a potential new head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Axios reported late Sunday that Dunkin was on the shortlist, thanks to Trump’s recommendation, and that he had already undergone an interview for the post. The Washington Post confirmed that Dunkin was “in the mix” for the post.
“John Dunkin isn’t just a pilot,” Axios quoted an unnamed White House official as saying. “He’s managed airline and corporate flight departments, certified airlines from start-up under FAA regulations, and oversaw the Trump presidential campaign’s air fleet, which included managing all aviation transportation for travel to 203 cities in 43 states over the course of 21 months.”
Trump has previously told airline executives that Dunkin is “a real expert” and a “smart guy.”
The FAA does indeed require somebody “smart” at the top. As the authority that regulates civil aviation in the U.S., it doesn’t just deal with issues such as air traffic control, pilot’s licenses and air transportation safety—it’s also a key player in the hot-button areas of drone technology and commercial space transportation.
As companies race to develop the tech for drone-based deliveries, for example, it’s the FAA that’s in charge of regulating and green-lighting their tests—although Trump’s White House last year gave local governments more authority to approve such tests. The FAA is also in charge of setting registration rules for drone-happy individuals.
And as private companies such as SpaceX and Virgin Orbit continue to step up their spaceflight efforts, the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation has to approve their rocket launches. There is divided opinion, though, on whether this office should be taken out of the FAA’s hands and returned to the purview of the Secretary of Transportation (it was transferred to the FAA under mid-1990s streamlining measures).
Other contenders for the administration’s top position include the FAA’s acting administrator, Dan Elwell, and the Republican congressman Sam Graves, from Missouri. The FAA’s previous administrator, Michael Huerta, was an appointee of Trump predecessor Barack Obama, and his term expired in January.
With Trump having made no nomination for his replacement, Elwell—the former deputy administrator—took over by default on a temporary basis.
According to the Post‘s sources, Trump does not intend to influence the final decision over who should replace Huerta.