John Boccieri has a full resume as fighter pilot, United Airlines pilot, politician, and air base vice commander. In his quest to be FAA administrator, he has been winning endorsements.
A top candidate for Federal Aviation Administrator says his deep involvement in investigating Colgan Air Flight 3407 makes clear his longstanding commitment to aviation safety.
“The safety focus has been paramount to me,” John Boccieri, a United pilot, vice commander of the Pittsburgh Air Force base, and a former U.S. Congressman, told Skift in his first interview since his name surfaced as a potential candidate to be the U.S.’s next chief aviation regulator.
“The mission, written into the DNA of any FAA Administrator is to preserve & foster a legacy of safety,” he said. “I firmly believe that for the FAA, all decisions we make should be focused on the safe transport of passengers and cargo.”
“I’m humbled and honored that my colleagues and the professional pilots I fly with have confidence and trust in my record,” he added. “There is a whole lot of air space between me and that flight seat, but I am honored to be considered.
FAA administrator Steve Dickson has said he will step down March 31, two years into a five-year term. For many, Dickson has served a model term, advocating for strong safety measures against an array of powerful and visible opponents including AT&T, Boeing, Verizon and politicians opposed to mask mandates.
Dickson “had to fly through some bumpy areas;” he faced “numerous efforts to peel back safety items,” Boccieri said. “I give anybody — Republican, Democrat or independent — who does that a lot of credit. These are service jobs, where you give yourself up for your country. Whoever is in that seat next, they need to take that track record of safety and run with it.”
For Boccieri, the most memorable moment from his term in Congress came when he met with families of victims of the 2009 Colgan crash, and they thanked him for fighting on their behalf.
“The families were hugging and kissing me,” Boccieri recalled. “They said, ‘you stayed on this legislation, we didn’t think it was going to go anywhere: we want to thank you.” He visited the gallery after a Congressional debate on safety legislation following the crash near Buffalo.
It is a memory that Boccieri treasures today, a dozen years later, when he is a candidate to head the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees aviation safety.
The legislation is best known for increasing minimum flight hours for commercial pilots, something Boccieri also supported, but it was he who pushed hardest for training requirements. “The crew was not trained on safety equipment for that aircraft, the Bombardier Q400,” he said. In an interview, he recited the events of the crash, his anger still apparent. He noted, for instance, that “They flew through significant ice accumulation, which the Air Force trained us to avoid.”
Boccieri recalls grilling the Colgan CEO during an oversight hearing. “The CEO emphatically stated he would not climb aboard an airplane if he knew the pilots weren’t trained on all the safety equipment. I then asked, ‘how can you expect the flying public to do something the CEO of the company wouldn’t even do?’ He responded, ‘the FAA doesn’t require it.’ Boccieri was speaking of full upset stall recovery, which the National Transportation Safety Board had long requested. “The FAA failed to require it and then that’s what I stated,” he said. “This tragedy was completely avoidable.”
The list of publicly known candidates for the FAA’s top spot expanded Friday, when the Allied Pilots Association, which represents the 14,000 American Airlines pilots, released a list of three recommended candidates. They are Boccieri; David Bourne, director of the Teamsters airline division, and Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association.
ALPA, which represents 62,000 pilots at 38 U.S. and Canadian airlines, has said only that it believes an ALPA pilot should be the choice.
So far, Boccieri has been the only candidate to speak publicly on the position. He has garnered public support from Todd Insler, chairman of the United chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, and from Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
In a statement to Cleveland.com, Brown said, “I’ve known and worked with John for years. He is a dedicated public servant and pilot who continues to serve his country honorably. He’s also a good person.”
Insler said, “I believe the FAA administrator should absolutely be an ALPA pilot. Fortunately, there are extremely qualified candidates in our ranks and the Biden administration will be able to make an excellent choice from them.”
Boccieri, 52, lives in Poland, Ohio, seven miles southeast of Youngstown. He is a Cleveland-based United pilot on the Boeing 737. At any other United base, he would be a captain, but in Cleveland, where flying has diminished over time, his 2014 hire date means that he remains a first officer.
Boccieri also works as vice commander of the Pittsburgh Air Force base, which has 1,300 employees. He has served on the port authority that oversees the Youngstown airport. He also has flown 438 combat hours. He flew 217 combat hours in Iraq and Afghanistan, generally enforcing no fly zones. He also flew C130 cargo planes, sometimes dropping paratroopers and equipment over Eastern Europe.
The resume also includes legislative work. Besides a term in Congress, when he was vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee’s aviation subcommittee, Boccieri served four terms as an Ohio state representative and one as a state senator.