Michael Huerta
Michael Huerta

The five-year term of FAA administrator Michael Huerta came to a close on Friday. Dan Elwell, Huerta's deputy administrator since late June, is now serving as acting head of the agency.

Huerta took over as acting director of the FAA in December 2011 and was appointed by President Obama to lead the agency in January 2013. During his tenure, he wrestled with implementation of the NextGen GPS-based air traffic control system as well as the emerging need for regulations on drone operators.

In what amounted to a farewell speech at the Aero Club of Washington in November, Huerta took particular pride in his effort to improve relations with those the FAA regulates.

"I never expected to have such a long term as administrator," he said. "But I knew my tenure would be pretty short if we couldn't achieve better ties with industry. Fortunately, you were more than willing to work with us on finding better ways to do business."

Huerta also appealed for a level-headed, fact-based discussion on a House proposal to remove air traffic control from the auspices of the FAA and instead turn over management of the nation's air traffic system to a private nonprofit managed by a board of aviation industry stakeholders.

"We can't keep talking past each other. We need to talk with each other," he said. "The sky above our heads is one of this nation's most valuable assets. We must protect it. We must help it thrive."

Trade group Airlines For America called Huerta a "tireless advocate for our shared goal of always putting the safety of passengers and crew first. The fact that we are in the safest period in aviation history is a testament to the culture of safety embraced within the FAA and throughout the aviation community today."

Elwell is an appointee of President Donald Trump who served as the FAA assistant administrator for policy, planning, and environment from 2006-2008, during the administration of George W. Bush. More recently, he was senior advisor on aviation to current secretary of transportation Elaine Chao.

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