President Trump "has told a host of administration officials and associates" that he wants his longtime personal pilot, John Dunkin, to head the Federal Aviation Administration, Axios reported Sunday night, noting that the FAA "has a budget in the billions" and "oversees all civil aviation in the United States." A White House official confirmed to The Washington Post that Dunkin is "in the mix" to lead the agency, run by acting chief Dan Elwell since Michael Huerta's five-year term ended last month. Elwell, a former deputy FAA administrator, is also on the short list, as is Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), a commercial airline pilot.
Dunkin has flown for Trump since 1989, according to a Smithsonian Channel documentary; that's the same year Trump bought Eastern Air Line's shuttle service and transformed it into the ill-fated Trump Shuttle airlines. A senior administration official told Axios' Jonathan Swan that while Dunkin got his job interview because of his ties to Trump, "if he gets the job it won't be because he's the president's pilot." An aviation industry insider told Swan that Trump picking Dunkin would be like "the Seinfeld episode when Cosmo Kramer used his golf caddy as a jury consultant." (It did not end well.)
A White House official told the Post that Trump is not putting his thumb on the scale, but defended Dunkin's qualifications. "John Dunkin isn't just a pilot," an administration official told Axios. "He's managed airline and corporate flight departments, certified airlines from start-up under FAA regulations, and oversaw the Trump presidential campaign's air fleet." Trump, who has proposed privatizing the FAA's air-traffic control system, told airline executives a year ago that he has "a pilot who's a real expert," adding, "My pilot, he's a smart guy, and he knows what's going on." Dunkin has shared with people that he would tell Trump if a pilot ran the FAA, flight delays would disappear, Axios says.