The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Michael G. Whitaker, a former Obama administration official, to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, filling a key vacancy that had persisted for more than 18 months.
Mr. Whitaker, 62, was confirmed by a vote of 98 to 0, bringing an end to the carousel of leadership that had plagued the agency for more than half of President Biden’s time in office. His swift bipartisan confirmation underscored the desire of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to install a permanent administrator atop the nation’s aviation regulator.
Mr. Whitaker now faces the challenge of stabilizing an agency that has been in turmoil and providing the flying public with the confidence that the country’s air travel system is safe and reliable. A system outage grounded flights nationwide in January, and a series of near collisions at airports around the country have raised fears about whether the air travel system is being stressed to the point of danger.
The F.A.A. has been without a permanent leader since Stephen Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines executive and an appointee of President Donald J. Trump, stepped down last year. In recent months, Polly Trottenberg, the deputy transportation secretary, has been serving as the agency’s acting administrator, but she had been due to relinquish that post this week because of a federal law limiting how long she could run the agency on an acting basis.
Mr. Whitaker’s confirmation to the position, which has a five-year term, comes after the Biden administration failed in its first attempt to appoint a permanent administrator. Last year, Mr. Biden nominated Phillip A. Washington, the chief executive of Denver International Airport, for the post. But Mr. Washington faced stiff criticism over his limited experience in aviation, and he withdrew from consideration in March.
Mr. Biden nominated Mr. Whitaker, the chief operating officer of Supernal, a Hyundai Motor Group company that is developing air taxis, in September. He has a long résumé in aviation and is deeply familiar with the F.A.A., having served as the agency’s deputy administrator during the Obama administration. He was also an executive at United Airlines.
Mr. Whitaker fared much better in the Senate, with Republicans and Democrats on the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation welcoming his extensive aviation experience. The panel approved his nomination in a voice vote last week, setting the stage for his confirmation by the full Senate.
“Whitaker’s overwhelming confirmation demonstrates the Senate’s commitment to getting aviation right,” Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington and the committee’s chairwoman, said in a statement on Tuesday. “There is a lot to do on F.A.A. staffing, technology upgrades and safety improvements, and Whitaker is the right person to lead it.”