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US Senate Confirms Airline "Fox" To Head FAA "Henhouse"
Just after it is revealed that the FAA permitted an aircraft
manufacturer, Boeing, to self-certify their own products for FAA
approval, resulting in the crash of two airliners loaded with
passengers, now the US Senate approves the former head of an airline,
Delta, to the safety watchdog FAA head over the airline industry.
And, the Republican majority US Senate confirms an airline industry
insider as FAA Administrator who failed to disclose on a questionnaire
he submitted to the Senate Commerce Committee that he is involved in
allegations of retaliation against two whistle blowers at Delta who
alleged there were training and pilot fatigue issues at the airline,
and violation of Special Federal Aviation Regulation 88, the fuel tank
flammability requirements that were a result of the in-flight
explosion of TWA Flight 800 in 1996.
This should make the flying public feel safer during their airline
Dickson Confirmed As New FAA Administrator
Russ NilesJuly 24, 20193
In a vote along party lines, the Senate approved the nomination of
former Delta VP of flight pperations Steve Dickson as the next FAA
administrator on Wednesday. Dickson, who was a line pilot with Delta
before going to the head office, was nominated by President Donald
Trump in March. While at Delta, he served on key committees designing
the future of airspace and air traffic control in the U.S. that led to
the formation of the NextGen Advisory Committee on which he served
until his retirement from Delta. Dickson will succeed Acting
Administrator Dan Elwell who has been in that post since the beginning
The news was greeted warmly from commercial aviation given Dickson’s
decades of service and experience in aviation. “We’re confident he’s
the right man for the job,” NBAA President Ed Bolen said, citing years
of working with Dickson on NextGen-related issues. NATCA President
Paul Rinaldi said he too has spent a lot of time with Dickson. “I have
personally experienced his leadership in the aviation safety
community,” Rinaldi said.
Dickson had a rough road to his confirmation after it was revealed
that he had been involved in allegations of retaliation against a
whistleblower at Delta who alleged there were training and pilot
fatigue issues at the airline. She was sent for a psychiatric
evaluation after taking her complaints to senior Delta officials,
including Dickson. Dickson said the exam was done for safety reasons.
The Senate voted 52 to 40 to accept Dickson with all Democrats
opposing his confirmation.
The confirmation of Dickson, who was nominated in March by President
Donald Trump, ran into some unexpected turbulence when it was reported
that he failed to disclose on a questionnaire he submitted to the
Senate Commerce Committee a situation involving a past complaint filed
by a Delta Air Lines pilot who claimed she was retaliated against by
the carrier after she reported concerns about safety issues.
Dickson’s nomination quickly became embroiled in concerns about an
ongoing administrative complaint against Delta in which a pilot,
Karlene Petitt, contends that the airline retaliated her, including
ordering her to undergo a psychiatric exam, aftershe reported concerns
about pilot training, fatigue and other matters to Dickson and another
executive. Dickson has said the evaluation was done for the sake of
Senators didn’t learn about Petitt’s case, or a deposition that
Dickson had given for it, until after his nomination hearing. Dickson
said he didn't disclose it because he'd interpreted a Senate Commerce
questionnaire as asking after "my personal conduct, my behavior both
in general and as an officer of a large public company, or any
instance in which I was a named party to a proceeding."
Democrats and some safety advocates seized on the accusations to argue
against confirming Dickson, saying he does not represent the reset the
FAA needs after the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people
and raised doubts about U.S. leadership in aviation safety. The vote
on Dickson's nomination is still pending, but he is expected to
On Tuesday, shortly before Dickson passed a key procedural hurdle,
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said it's "clear to me he is not the
right person for the safety culture that we need today at the FAA.”
She also referred to a prior party-line vote in committee to move his
nomination forward as “distressing,” saying “we should have found
consensus on a nominee for the FAA given all the concerns the public
has about flying safety.”
“Someone who takes safety seriously and listens to the pilots is what
we need on the front line,” Cantwell said.
Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot at the controls of the
“Miracle on the Hudson” flight in 2009, cited the whistleblower
allegations in publicly opposing Dickson's confirmation.
“His actions and words raise grave concerns about his ability to act
with the integrity and the independence the next FAA administrator
must have in order to navigate the challenges of the ungrounding of
the 737 MAX and to rebuild global trust in the FAA’s competence and
ability to appropriately certify new aircraft designs,” Sullenberger
said in an interview with POLITICO.
“This is absolutely the worst time” for any concerns to be surrounding
the FAA’s new administrator, said Peter Goelz, former managing
director of the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent
federal agency that investigates transportation accidents.
The FAA’s reputation has “been damaged in part because I think there
is a perception, particularly among other regulatory agencies, that
the FAA is not proven to be independent of Boeing, that it has not
exercised its regulatory oversight in an aggressive manner,” Goelz
said. “And it’s going to take some time for the FAA to regain its
worldwide leadership position.”
Lawmakers tasked with overseeing the FAA have suggested that the
agency may have become too close to Boeing, and that its process for
delegating increasing amounts of authority to manufacturers — as
Congress has repeatedly encouraged — doesn't allow enough oversight.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who opposed Dickson's nomination,
said his Delta career “should be read as calling into question his
independence and ability to put the FAA back in charge of safety.”
At the agency, there needs to be “clear independence, not only an
expression of independence, but a public perception and a guarantee of
independence because of the claims that the FAA has been, in effect,
delegating too much responsibility to the airlines,” Blumenthal said.
At his hearing in May, Dickson defended the practice of delegating
certain certificationresponsibilities to the private sector, though he
noted his personal experience with delegation doesn't have to do with
aircraft approval but rather with pilots.
“It’s made the FAA a much better regulator and it’s made the carriers,
I think, safer and improved the quality of pilots that are being
qualified,” Dickson said....
The pilot, Karlene Petitt, filed an Occupational Safety and Health
Administration complaint against Delta in 2016. She alleged that after
she came forward, the airline grounded her and referred her for a
psychiatric examination by a company doctor who then diagnosed her
with bipolar disorder. Subsequent medical examinations determined
Petitt did not suffer from bipolar disorder, and she has since
returned to flying for Delta. But Petitt alleges she was removed from
flying for 22 months as a result of Delta’s “adverse and retaliatory
actions.”“From our perspective at Delta, they used psychiatric
evaluation as an alternative to discipline,” said Petitt’s attorney
Lee Seham.Delta denies Petitt was referred for a medical assessment in
retaliation, and says she was referred for a medical evaluation after
her behavior and statements raised questions about her fitness to
fly.The Delta executive who oversaw pilots at the time, Steve Dickson,
has now been nominated by President Donald Trump to the position of
FAA administrator. The Senate commerce committee held a hearing on
Dickson’s nomination last month.
Steve Dickson at a Senate commerce committee hearing for confirmation
of his nomination as FAA administrator.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
But after media reports on Petitt’s OSHA case, the committee has hit
pause on the process to confirm Dickson’s nomination.
Dickson said he decided moving forward with a medical review of Petitt
“was a sound course of action,” according to a deposition in the OSHA
case. Dickson is not named as a party to the suit.Committee chairman
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said in a written statement that since the
hearing, “new information has come to the committee’s attention that
merits further examination.” The committee is reviewing the
information and asked the White House to also review it, according to
Wicker. Dickson has been cooperative with staff requests, according to
a committee aide.
Sen. Roger Wicker is head of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and
Transportation Committee, which is considering Steve Dickson’s
nomination to lead the Federal Aviation Administration.
The White House issued a statement saying it “has complete confidence
in [Dickson’s] nomination and expects him to be confirmed.”OSHA in
2018 found there was insufficient evidence to determine a violation
occurred. Petitt appealed, and an administrative law hearing was held
earlier this year. A ruling isn’t expected until next year.In a report
Petitt submitted to Delta, she raised concerns about the management
style of Delta’s Flight Operations department, saying it had an “Old
school military and completely hierarchy mode of operation.” Petitt at
the time was pursuing a Ph.D. in aviation safety and raised concerns
about the company’s culture as part of its safety management system —
the company’s approach to managing safety risk.She also wrote of how
she felt she was treated differently than other pilots and retaliated
against for posting on her blog about aviation and other
activities.According to a Delta executive’s testimony, the woman who
interviewed her for the internal investigation said Petitt “was quite
emotional” and that she was concerned “that something would happen to
her, that Flight Operations was out to get her.”After the interview,
Delta said it referred Petitt for a medical evaluation, and out of an
abundance of caution followed its medical review process in its pilot
contract. In the end, the process concluded she was fit to fly.The
company said Petitt received pay and benefits for the period she was
grounded, and said it stands by its decision.It’s not the first time a
pilot has claimed Delta has used medical evaluations in such a way.A
former pilot, Michael Protack, filed suit against Delta last year for
wrongful termination and retaliation. Protack alleges that after he
reported safety concerns about airplanes and complained about pay cuts
and pension changes, Delta falsely claimed he was medically unfit to
fly and required a psychiatric evaluation to fly again.
FAA nominee OK'd retaliation against pilot whistleblower, lawsuit says
Curt DevineDrew Griffin-Profile-Image
By Curt Devine and Drew Griffin, CNN
Updated 10:06 PM ET, Mon June 3, 2019
(CNN)A Senate committee is investigating President Donald Trump's
nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, Stephen Dickson,
for his involvement in a case in which a Delta Air Lines pilot alleged
the company retaliated against her -- including sending her to a
psychiatrist -- after she shared safety concerns with him.
The case, which has not been previously reported, involves Dickson's
time as a senior vice president at Delta Air Lines and a Delta pilot
who argues the company retaliated against her after she met with him
Dickson did not disclose the case on his nomination questionnaire to
the Senate Commerce Committee.
As Delta's then-head of flight operations, Dickson approved sending
the pilot, Karlene Petitt, to a psychiatrist weeks after she gave him
and another flight operations manager a report that listed what she
described as FAA violations by Delta, according to documents.
The psychiatrist diagnosed Petitt with bipolar disorder and the
company grounded her for more than a year. Two subsequent examinations
found that she does not have that disorder, and she is currently
flying for Delta.
Petitt is suing Delta in a Department of Labor administrative case
that remains pending.
In a deposition, Dickson said he had ultimate responsibility over the
decision to refer Petitt for a mental evaluation and called it a
"sound course of action." Dickson retired from Delta last year.
Petitt's attorney, Lee Seham, told that CNN Dickson allowed what
amounted to retaliation against his client.
"This was all a terrible mistake, but it was a terrible mistake that
went on for a year and a half because of the lack of diligence that
Captain Dickson accepted," Seham said.
Commerce committee staffers are currently examining the case, which
they learned of after Dickson's confirmation hearing on May 15,
according to two committee aides.
On his Senate questionnaire, Dickson stated, "During my Delta
employment, from time to time and in the ordinary course of business,
Delta was involved in various judicial, administrative or regulatory
proceedings relating to its business, although I was not a named party
in any such actions."
On another section that asked for "additional information, favorable
or unfavorable, which you feel should be disclosed in connection with
your nomination," Dickson responded: "None."
Initial complaint and bipolar-disorder diagnosis
Petitt's ordeal began more than three years ago when she compiled a
list of concerns about Delta. In addition to being a pilot for
decades, Petitt has a PhD in aviation.
Petitt had witnessed a variety of events and practices involving Delta
employees, training and scheduling practices that she believed
violated FAA standards.
She compiled her concerns into a report that described "numerous areas
where safety culture and ... compliance conflict with the FAA's (2013)
outlined requirements and the airline's core values," which she
presented to Dickson and Delta's then-vice president of flying
operations, Jim Graham, in January 2016.
In a deposition, Petitt said that Dickson said during that meeting,
"Some people like to sit in the back of the room and throw spit wads,"
which she interpreted as dismissive of her claims. Dickson said in a
deposition he did not remember making that statement.
A Delta employee-relations manager then conducted an interview with
Petitt in March 2016 about some of her claims, during which Petitt
became frustrated, and her eyes filled with tears, according to her
attorney. That manager reported that Petitt believed "something bad
eventually will happen either to her or to a Delta flight," according
Graham held a teleconference with that manager and others and decided
to ground Petitt and mandate that she receive a psychiatric
evaluation, with Dickson's approval, according to court documents and
The mental health evaluation by a Delta-hired psychiatrist resulted in
Petitt's bipolar-disorder diagnosis, which rendered her unable to fly.
During this time, the FAA sent Petitt a letter in September 2016 that
notified her an investigation had substantiated one of her safety
concerns. The FAA determined Delta had failed to count employee
"deadheading," where the airline provides an employee with a flight to
another location, as flight time for computing daily and weekly flight
limits, which Petitt said could affect pilot fatigue. The FAA did not
substantiate three of her other allegations.
While Petitt remained grounded, a panel of doctors from the Mayo
Clinic rejected Delta's psychiatric evaluation. Due to the
disagreement, Delta's psychiatrist and the Mayo Clinic doctors
selected a neutral medical examiner who in turn determined Petitt was
medically fit. She began flying for Delta again in 2017.
Petitt's attorney Seham said he has no doubt that the decision to
ground Petitt, overseen by Dickson, was linked to the safety report
she shared, which he said amounts to retaliation by Delta and sends a
troubling message to the company's pilots.
"What's the impact of safety in terms of the message to 12,000 pilots
that after you submit a safety report you're off to a psychiatrist?"
Seham said. "Captain Dickson did nothing in terms of stopping what
Second Delta Pilot Claims Retaliatory Action by FAA Nominee
June 10, 2019
Substantial allegations against Steve Dickson, the nominee to head up
the Federal Aviation Administration have been made by two pilots who
worked for him. These suggest the former senior v.p. of Delta flight
operations may be the wrong choice to head up a government safety
agency with monumental tasks before it. Already the Senate Commerce,
Science and Transportation Committee has slowed the confirmation
process to investigate Dickson more thoroughly.
A number of news outlets have reported the charge that Karlene Petitt,
a Boeing 777 pilot with two decades of commercial flying experience
and a Ph.D. from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, was grounded
after reporting safety concerns to Delta management including Dickson.
Within weeks of submitting her critique, the airline forced her to
undergo a psychiatric evaluation that determined she suffered from
bipolar disorder. Dickson ratified the decision to have her examined,
saying it was a “sound course of action.”
But two later exams found that the initial diagnosis of bipolar
disorder was unfounded. Petitt returned to work then filed a
whistleblower suit claiming the mental health exam was retribution for
reporting safety issues.
Dickson failed to disclose that he had been deposed in the lawsuit,
which is required. There’s a larger issue, though, that goes to the
heart of aviation safety. What kind of advocate for the flying public
will Dickson be, if in his job with Delta, he seemed more inclined to
target the messenger than investigate the message?
Members of the Senate committee should be hyper-focused on this
question as the FAA faces one of the most consequential periods in its
recent history. The next few years will likely put much scrutiny on
the role of businesses in overseeing their own safety certifications
as a result of the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max.
While Petitt is back flying the line, another Delta pilot who was
fired after reporting safety issues under Dickson’s watch remains out
of work, his whistleblower suit not scheduled to be decided until the
end of this year.
Karl Seuring flew for Delta for over 30 years but when not flying for
the airline, he had a side business doing technical consulting on fuel
tank safety as the holder of a supplemental type certificate (STC) for
737 auxiliary fuel tank systems. Sometimes he supplied parts and
assisted Delta with its contract maintenance business.
In 2016, while Delta was servicing a 737 for a foreign head of state,
the airline opted to return the airplane to its home country without
complying with the full SFAR-88 fuel tank flammability requirements
that were a result of the in-flight explosion of TWA Flight 800 in
Seuring and Delta’s technical operations folks apparently disagreed as
to whether the flight was legal under post-TWA 800 fuel tank safety
regulations. Delta’s argument appears to be that since the plane was
destined for another country, the regulation did not apply. Seuring
claimed the flight would operate over U.S. airspace and therefore the
flight “exposed the plane, its occupants and Delta to safety risks.”
As a holder of the STC, Seuring claimed he was responsible to the FAA.
Months after the dispute, which Capt. Seuring elevated to the FAA, he
was fired from his pilot’s job. Delta claimed he’d misused his travel
passes and abused his sick leave. His whistleblower case against the
airline is pending and, as in the Petitt case, Dickson failed to
disclose to the Senate, his role in Seuring’s lawsuit.
In a letter Seuring sent last month to Sen. Roger Wicker, chairman of
the committee charged with vetting the FAA nominee, Seuring urged the
committee not to rush Dickson’s confirmation. “Americans expect a
safety leader to head FAA,” he wrote.
The public expectation that the FAA will prioritize safety has already
been undermined by the ongoing revelations about the 737 Max. Now we
have two pilots telling their personal stories about the man who might
lead the agency next. This is hardly the right stuff to elevate the
expectations of the flying public.
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