The head of the Federal Aviation Administration is resigning.
Steve Dickson, who took the role as FAA administrator in August 2019 after being nominated by President Donald Trump to the five-year term, says he will step down March 31.
“Over the past several years, my family has been a source of tremendous encouragement, strength and support,” Dickson said in a letter Wednesday to FAA employees shared with CNN. “Nevertheless, after sometimes long and unavoidable periods of separation from my loved ones during the pandemic, it is time to devote my full time and attention to them. As I wrote in my letter to President Biden, it is time to go home.”
In a statement, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he is grateful for Dickson’s “years of service to our country and his lifelong dedication to making sure our aviation system is the best and safest in the world.”
“While all of us at USDOT will miss Steve as a leader and as a colleague, we are very happy for him and his wife, Janice, as they embark upon this next chapter together,” Buttigieg said.
It is not clear who will take the helm as FAA administrator.
Dickson is about halfway through his term as the head of the agency, which has faced a number of challenges in recent years, including navigating the Covid-19 pandemic’s sharp blow to air travel and soaring numbers of unruly commercial passengers.
In 2021, the United States saw the worst year on record for unruly airplane passenger behavior, according to FAA data. The agency logged 5,981 reports of unruly passengers as of December 31, and of those, 4,290 – nearly 72% – were Covid-19 mask-related incidents.
Dickson executed the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy for disruptive passengers, saying at the time of his order: “Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way.”
The policy, which took effect in January 2021, skips warnings or counseling and goes directly to legal penalties for unruly behavior. It was extended at least until the federal mask mandate is lifted.
On Wednesday, the FAA announced that 43 more cases of unruly passengers had been referred to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution.
Recently, Dickson became the target of telecom companies for the FAA’s handling of the rollout of new 5G cell service, which threatened possible interference with critical safety systems on commercial airliners.
Dickson also oversaw the return of the Boeing 737 Max to service after two fatal crashes abroad grounded the plane worldwide. A former Delta Air Lines pilot, in 2020 Dickson flew the Max himself on test flights before it was returned to passenger service.
Dickson began his career in the military and later flew commercial aircraft including the Boeing 727, 737, 757 and 767. In his post at Delta he was responsible for flight safety and pilot training.
This story has been updated with additional details.