After release on DWI charge, FAA administrator made test flight

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt was arrested Saturday night on drunken driving charges. He resigned Tuesday.

Story highlights

  • Babbitt was arrested on a drunk-driving charge Saturday night
  • On Monday he was co-pilot on a government flight from DC to North Carolina
  • The proficiency flight was scheduled before the arrest, officials said
  • Babbitt resigned as head of the FAA on Tuesday; flight broke no rules
A day and a half after he was arrested on a drunk-driving charge, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt co-piloted a government jet to North Carolina as part of a proficiency flight, Federal Aviation Administration officials confirmed Wednesday.
The flight was planned before Babbitt's Saturday-night arrest, officials said, and took place as scheduled Monday morning.
Babbitt does not appear to have violated any FAA rules by taking the flight. Since he has not been convicted of DWI, he was under no formal obligation to report the arrest, and there is no suggestion that he violated a "bottle to throttle" rule requiring eight hours to pass between alcohol consumption and flying.
But Babbitt earned the ire of his boss -- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood -- by not notifying him of the arrest. LaHood learned of the arrest about 1 p.m. Monday after a Virginia police department published a press release announcing the arrest. Babbitt, meanwhile, was just returning from the proficiency flight.
Within an hour, the DOT issued a press release saying that Babbitt had asked to be placed on leave, and the request had been accepted.
On Tuesday, LaHood told reporters he was "very disappointed" in the way he had learned about the arrest. Babbitt resigned later Tuesday, saying he did not want anything to "cast a shadow" on the FAA.
The resignation brought to an end a tumultuous four days that began about 10:30 p.m. Saturday when a Fairfax, Virginia, police officer said he noticed Babbitt driving on the wrong side of Old Lee Highway, police said. Babbitt was the sole occupant of the vehicle and cooperated fully with police, according to police
Police said after it was determined that Babbitt was under the influence of alcohol, he was taken to a jail where he was charged with driving while intoxicated and released on personal recognizance.
FAA officials said Babbitt had no official duties over the weekend. Babbitt did not return a reporter's phone call.
On Monday, Babbitt went on a proficiency flight in an FAA aircraft, departing Reagan National Airport near Washington, flying to Hickory, North Carolina, and then on to Charlotte, where the plane landed for fuel before returning to Washington. The flight was intended as training for the FAA's new satellite-based navigation system known as Next Gen, the FAA said.
The FAA said administrators with pilot's licenses are permitted to fly FAA aircraft. "Randy Babbitt served as a licensed pilot and maintained qualifications to fly FAA airplanes on official business," the FAA said. "This helps provide firsthand knowledge of the U.S. aviation system."
In this case, another pilot served as pilot in command during the flight, the FAA said.
Under federal regulations, FAA-licensed pilots must notify the FAA within 60 days of being convicted of a drunk driving charge, or when they apply for medical recertification. Neither applied to Babbitt, although officials said senior officials are held to a higher standard.