FAA Managers Association 40th Convention

Administrator Stephen M Dickson (August 12, 2019 - present)

Hello Everyone. Congratulations on 40 years of FAAMA conventions, and for the continued excellent work your members do for the FAA. 

While our numbers may be few, for those of us who manage, our impact can be enormous.
When I came to the FAA two years and two months ago, many people assumed that my piloting skills in fighter jets and commercial airliners over four decades made me the perfect candidate for the Administrator’s job. 

As managers, we know that’s not true. It takes a great deal more than piloting skills to be successful in a role like this—it takes management acumen and solid leadership abilities, the skills that are very familiar to FAAMA members. Technical expertise may get you to the point in your career when you can become a manager, but it takes a whole lot more than technical knowledge to keep you there successfully.

One of my predecessors—in fact, the very first FAA Administrator, Pete Quesada—had the same issue—he was known in pilot circles as the “Man who could fly anything”. 

Quesada indeed was a pilot in World War II, but his true impact—on the War effort, and later at the FAA—was as a manager, a leader, and an innovator. He developed new tactics and introduced advanced technologies like radar to help win the war in Europe. 

He later brought those skills to the FAA when President Eisenhower appointed him as the first FAA Administrator in 1958. This was certainly no golden parachute—Quesada took the reins of a bureaucracy mired in decades-old safety standards that were not suited to the coming of the jet age. Eisenhower knew he was appointing a leader, not just a pilot. 

In the course of only two years and two months on the job, Quesada not only created the modern day FAA, but he brought safety back to the forefront. 

At the end of his short tenure, the agency had 40,000 employees, 9,500 air navigation and control facilities, the first secondary surveillance and airport surface detection radars, and UNIVAC computers in air route traffic control centers. 

Obviously, one man couldn’t have done all this on his own. But as a great manager, Quesada was able to ignite a passion for safety and public service among his employees, and they in turn became force multipliers to achieve goals that might otherwise have been impossible. 
Now granted, I joined an FAA in whole lot better shape than when Quesada took over in 1958, but there are parallels. 

The 737 MAX crashes revealed that decades-old safety standards were not suited to advances in automation and the evolution of the global pilot population; and COVID let us know very quickly that workforce, industry, and passenger health issues are vitally important to ensuring our aviation system is safe and available. 

Quesada was on the leading edge of the jet age and the space race, but things aren’t really so different now. Think about the amazing progress we’re seeing in drones, electric-powered flying taxis, and the rapid expansion of the commercial space industry. These are positive developments, but no less challenging in light of our safety mandate to operate the safest and most efficient aerospace system in the world. 

That’s the tactical side of the business, but managing is also about being strategic—building the robust and resilient FAA for the future. My roadmap for taking us into the future is called Flight Plan 21, and it focuses on safety, operational excellence, global leadership, and people. 
“People” is last in the list, but us managers know it’s first when it comes to cultivating a workforce that is passionate about safety and public service. We’re going to need FAAMA’s help to focus that energy. 

We also need your help in recruiting and training the workforce of the future. 

We need leaders now more than ever if we want to keep pace with changes in the aerospace world, particularly now that COVID has delayed our pipelines, and more controllers are coming of retirement age.

Deputy Administrator Mims and I are very much focused on initiatives aimed at enriching our talent pool through employee development, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. We need people from all walks of life and all experiences and backgrounds at the table to meet our safety mandate. 

That means reaching out to folks who are underrepresented in our industry and evolving our hiring practices and processes. 

We have to make sure everyone gets a fair shot at landing a job and once they’re in the job, advancing to the fullest extent of their capabilities, without barriers. That’s where managers are critical, and Brad and I are here to support you in any way that we can. 

I’m proud that FAAMA launched its own D, E&I initiative, and that you’re having a roundtable discussion on the topic here at the convention with John Benison. You also have Elizabeth Barcus as your first female president, and a Board of Directors that is more diverse than it’s ever been, so it’s clear you are putting your words into action. 

And putting words into action is what I will continue to do. That’s what Pete Quesada did one generation ago, and it created a tradition of excellence that put the FAA on solid footing well into the 21st Century.  

My job is to ensure the FAA is ready to take on the challenges and opportunities into the 22nd Century. 

I can only do that with your help, and I appreciate your help. Believe me, I know that being a manager is certainly not the path of least resistance—it is tough work, often with little recognition. However, your impact can be extensive and enduring.

I know I could have been happy spending my days on the golf course, taking on more Honey-Do projects, and spending more time spoiling the grandkids.

But I took the road less traveled—just like you did—and for all the right reasons. 

I’m glad we’re traveling the road together. Because together, we’re going to make a real difference for the safety and efficiency of the air transportation system. And that’s an excellent result, for the FAA and for the American people. 

Thanks for listening, and have a great convention.