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The Federal Aviation Administration has been without a permanent chief since early this year when President Obama's appointee stepped down. Now, according to reports, President Trump has a nominee in mind - one who happens to be his personal pilot. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: John Duncan flew Trump around during his campaign in 2016, piloting a Boeing 757 dubbed Trump Force One. The president clearly thinks highly of Duncan, telling airline executives he was a real expert at a White House meeting last year.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My pilot - he's a smart guy and knows what's going on - said the government is using the wrong equipment and instituting a massive multibillion-dollar project, but they're using the wrong type of equipment.
NAYLOR: Trump was referring to a plan he supports to modernize the air traffic control system in part by privatizing it. The measure, however, has stalled in Congress and was not part of the FAA's reauthorization last year. The FAA administrator oversees an agency in charge of all civil aviation in the U.S. with a budget of some $16 billion and 47,000 employees. It's often been led by a pilot in the past, says former acting FAA administrator Lynne Osmus.
LYNNE OSMUS: Some came from the airline industry. Some were military pilots. Some had general aviation certificates. But they understood the system. And that certainly brings knowledge to the way the FAA operates.
NAYLOR: Trump's consideration of Duncan was first reported by Axios, which quoted an unnamed administration official touting Duncan's experience, saying he managed airline and corporate flight departments, certified airlines from startup under FAA regulations, and oversaw the Trump campaign's air fleet. Osmus says she and the other non-pilots who've headed the FAA found plenty of in-house experts to present the pilots' point of view and that there are many other issues to be considered by the agency's leader - most importantly, safety.
OSMUS: Clearly there's a lot of technical people within the agency that do run the day-to-day operations. No doubt about it. But I think perhaps more than a lot of large agencies in government, because the FAA is a safety agency providing safety oversight and air traffic services, it really does rely on decisions based on safety data.
NAYLOR: And Max Stier, head of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, says personnel decisions for such key government positions should above all be based on merit.
MAX STIER: It is really important to understand that it's vital that the people that are picked for those positions actually are the very best in class, they have the capabilities to perform at the highest levels, because the consequences are so large.
NAYLOR: A White House official would only say there are no personnel decisions to announce at this time. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.