Straight from Steve Meet FAA Administrator Steve Dickson

by Susan Parson, FAA Safety Briefing Editor

“It’s all about the people” is the way Steve Dickson summarizes his approach to his challenging new job as FAA Administrator.

FAA employees have quickly learned that he practices what he preaches. Shortly after he took office, Steve — as he is universally known in the agency — instituted a weekly “Straight from Steve” video message to let FAA employees know first-hand what he’s seeing, hearing, thinking, and doing as he does the job. He warmly engages FAA employees that he spots on his metrorail commute to work, regularly grabs a cup of coffee in the employee cafeteria, and is happy to chat with colleagues in the corridors. When the FAA Safety Briefing team interviewed him recently, Steve shared a story about talking airplanes with an employee who mentioned having a collection of airplane models. They stopped by for a look and, Steve offered to take a selfie so the employee could “prove” that the FAA Administrator had personally paid a visit.

Professional Flight Path

During a recent General Aviation Roundtable event, leaders of the major GA organizations got their own opportunity to hear straight from Steve about his approach to this important sector of the aviation community. He acknowledged to this audience that his aviation background in the U.S. Air Force and in the air carrier environment didn’t include a lot of GA. But as he stressed both then and again to the FAA Safety Briefing team, he recognized the wide-ranging importance of this vital sector and he is eager to learn.

In that connection, Steve fondly remembers his first powered GA flight experience. “I was at the U.S. Air Force Academy,” he recalls, “and I had done soaring during my first year. Over the summer, though, a neighbor who was a retired Pan Am captain took me from Orlando to Cedar Key in his Mooney. I was really impressed by what we could do in a small plane.” Steve also remembers enjoying the sports-car-like style and performance of the Mooney.

He loved the experience but, as anyone who went to a service academy will understand, Uncle Sam’s demands on his time didn’t allow him to pursue GA flying. Instead, Steve went on to solo in the T-37 before moving to military aircraft including the T-41, the T-38 jet trainer, and the F-15.

After leaving the Air Force, Steve found a professional aviation home at Delta Airlines, first as a flight engineer on the venerable B-727. His distinguished air carrier career eventually took him into the “front office” of practically every aircraft type in the fleet: B-757/B-767, B-737, and the A-320. Steve also spent time in Delta’s executive front office, serving as senior vice president of Flight Operations. In that role, he was responsible for the carrier’s global safety and operational performance, as well as pilot training, crew scheduling, and regulatory compliance.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson chats with William and Mikayla Moore, two Aviation Career Education (ACE) Academy participants, during a recent “Straight From Steve” video segment.

People Are Our Strength

Steve is excited to bring his broad aviation experience in line operations and management to the FAA’s front office. As a people person, he advocates greater interdependence as a key to greater safety. “We need to have our people working across all lines of business, looking for opportunities to improve, and best practices that we can apply in new ways.” He is also interested in finding new ways to recruit, train, and mentor the workforce of the future. Steve summarizes his role as providing overall vision, reprioritizing as needed, and helping the team stay focused on execution of the FAA’s core mission — safety.

“Safety is obviously our top priority,” he stresses, “and I also think we can make better use of data and processes to raise the bar.” Steve is especially interested in seeing the transition of raw data to information that can be used to enhance safety, and in finding strategic opportunities to apply some of the best practices in the air carrier world to GA. He is quick to recognize that the diversity in GA requires adapting and scaling such approaches. “I’ve spent time in Europe, and while they have lots of glider clubs, they don’t have the kind of GA activity that we do. We have to find ways to increase safety without limiting freedom or discouraging innovation.”

Though Steve doesn’t have a lot of spare time in his new role, we did ask what he likes to do in his off-duty hours. “I love spending time with family, including my two grandchildren — all still in Atlanta.” As an avid reader of history, he is also enjoying the history-rich museums and monuments in the Washington metropolitan area. “There is just so much to see and do here,” he notes, “and I’m glad to have the opportunity to work at the FAA and to live in this area.”

So there you have it — straight from Steve!

Susan K. Parson (susan.parson@faa.gov) is editor of FAA Safety Briefing and a Special Assistant in the FAA’s Flight Standards Service. She is a general aviation pilot and flight instructor.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.
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