When President Joe Biden last month nominated Michael Whitaker to serve as the next administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, the move was widely seen as a positive one for the electric vertical take-off and landing industry.
Whitaker, a former airline executive and FAA deputy administrator, has spent the past three-and-a-half years in senior leadership roles with Supernal, the advanced air mobility division of Hyundai Motor Group. His deep familiarity with the space implied that, at the very least, he could skip the learning curve that would confront a nominee with less exposure to “flying taxis”.
Archer Aviation CEO Adam Goldstein — whorecently recruited former FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen to his air taxi startup — took things a step further, declaring on social media that Whitaker’s nomination was “another strong signal of the U.S. government’s commitment to ensuring we lead the world in the safe integration of eVTOL aircraft into the airspace.”
Although there has been some renewed attention recently on the revolving door between the FAA and industry, few industry observers expect that Whitaker would unduly favor his former employer in his role as administrator. Multiple sources who spoke with The Air Current in advance of his Senate confirmation hearing this week described Whitaker as a “straight shooter”, and the White House and FAA have emphasized that he would also be bound by ethics rules.
Yet, there is a possibility that Whitaker’s background could actually prove to be a disadvantage for eVTOL developers, if those ethics rules prevent him from becoming involved with vital rulemaking for the sector. The FAA’s advanced air mobility efforts to date have been hampered by division within the agency and its 18 months without permanent leadership. Industry has beenroundly critical of its proposed Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) for powered-lift aircraft including eVTOLs, which the FAA has promised will be finalized by the end of next year.
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