President Trump Wants His Personal Pilot to Run the FAA Because America is a Meritocracy

President Trump shows us his best grumpy face
President Trump shows us his best grumpy face
Photo: AP

The Trump regime needs to find someone for the top job at the Federal Aviation Administration. And according to the Washington DC rumor mill, President Trump really wants his former personal pilot to fill that role.


Under current law, the administrator of the FAA serves a maximum term of five years. Michael Huerta, an Obama appointee who took the reins in 2013, saw his term expire in January, leaving the Trump team to look for a replacement.

The politics website Axios reports that the short list includes names like Missouri Congressman Sam Graves and current acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell. But the name that’s raising eyebrows is John Dunkin, President Trump’s personal pilot since 1989. Dunkin has reportedly already been interviewed for the position.

“He’s on the list because he’s the president’s pilot, but if he gets the job it won’t be because he’s the president’s pilot,” an anonymous source from the Trump regime told Axios.

Why does President Trump think Dunkin is qualified for the job? Apparently whenever there were delays on the tarmac over the years, Dunkin would tell Trump that obnoxious delays like that would never happen if the head of the FAA was a pilot.

Notably, the current acting administrator of the FAA, Daniel Elwell, is a pilot who graduated from the Air Force Academy, served in Operation Desert Storm, and flew for American Airlines for 16 years. But that impressive list of accomplishments might not mean much to Trump, a man who’s known to value personal loyalty above all else.

The other thing that Elwell might have against him? Other staff inside the White House, along with Trump’s own Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, have expressed support for Elwell.


“Dan’s background as a military and commercial pilot and past leadership positions in FAA and the aviation sector ensures a seamless transition to continue the important mission of the FAA,” Chao said in a glowing statement last month.

Chao is the wife of US Senator Mitch McConnell, a man who has been at odds with Trump’s personal style of schoolyard bullying ever since the president took office. Or, to put it more bluntly, Trump could nominate Dunkin just to piss off McConnell.


No decisions have been made on the position yet, but it will be interesting to see how Trump regime officials respond to this news. Almost every single time that the prospect of nepotism rears its head in the Trump White House, officials are quick to deny it. But Trump has a way of getting his friends and family, no matter how unqualified, into positions of power.

Take, as just one example, Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Here’s a tweet from November 16, 2016, shortly after he won the presidency:


Oddly enough, his kids (and son-in-law) don’t have permanent top level security clearances. But that’s only because they haven’t been able to pass the background checks.

It hasn’t stopped them from accessing highly classified information or from acting as diplomats in one of the most high-stakes nuclear stand-offs in a generation. But I’m sure that President Trump won’t put personal loyalty above qualifications when choosing the new head of the FAA. America is a meritocracy. At least that’s what I keep hearing.



Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog


I worked for FAA contractors for 40 years, many times directly with the administrator. The FAA administrator faces two challenges: technology and labor relations. The FAA is a technology-driven institution, relying on radio, radar, computers and now GPS. It needs to upgrade and modernize, but has shown itself to be ineffective in doing that.

The 15,000 air traffic controllers are represented by a fairly aggressive union called the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). Maintaining on-going operations means negotiating with the union, and any future enhancements must meet with the union’s approval. This has often proven very difficult to achieve. NATCA’s predecessor PATCO struck in 1981; Reagan fired just about all of them.

Departure delays are inevitable. Airlines schedule for normal circumstances, so when abnormal things happen like severe weather or runway closures, traffic volume must be reduced. If you don’t wait on the runway then you’ll be waiting in the air, which is much more expensive and much less safe.

Being the administrator is a difficult job, and I wish whoever gets it well. The safety and wellbeing of millions of people every day ultimately depend on how well he or she does the job.