WASHINGTON – FAA administrator Randy Babbitt resigned Tuesday as head of the Federal Aviation Administration following his arrest over the weekend on charges of drunken driving.
Babbitt was about halfway through a five-year term. Deputy FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will serve as acting administrator. Industry officials and lawmakers said they expect Huerta to continue in the post through next year since the White House probably will want to avoid a possible nomination fight before the presidential election.
In recent months, Huerta has been leading the FAA’s troubled NextGen effort to transition from an air traffic control system based on World War II-era radar technology to one based on satellite technology.
Babbitt, 65, was arrested Saturday night in Fairfax City, Va., by a patrolman who said the nation’s top aviation official was driving on the wrong side of the road.
Babbitt said in a statement that he had submitted his resignation to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and it had been accepted.
Earlier in the day, LaHood told reporters he was disappointed to learn of Babbitt’s arrest from a news release issued by the Fairfax City police department on Monday.
LaHood has aggressively campaigned against drunken driving and is working with police agencies and safety advocates on an annual holiday crackdown on drinking and driving later this month.
Babbitt’s easy manner, commitment to safety and insider’s knowledge of the airline industry generated respect in Congress, where he regularly testified on safety issues and in support of NextGen.
There was concern Tuesday that Babbitt’s sudden departure could delay or jeopardize several important safety efforts under way at the FAA that are strongly opposed by the airline industry. One effort involves crafting the first new regulations in decades governing pilot work schedules in an effort to prevent fatigue.