FAA defends the safety of air travel despite close callsFederal Aviation Administration head Billy Nolen says “the system works as its designed” following last month’s shutdown.Damien Henderson, Associated PressSenators were largely divided along partisan lines as they heard from Philip Washington, president Biden’s nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration.In a hearing hosted by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday, Democrats on the panel mostly focused on highlighting Washington’s leadership experience in the transportation sector and military service, while Republicans used their time to question his lack of specific flying and aviation regulatory experience.Washington is currently serving as the CEO of Denver International Airport in Colorado, and was previously the head of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority in California. He also achieved the rank of command sergeant major in the Army. He was recently named in connection with a corruption investigation in Los Angeles and was mentioned in a complaint about working conditions at Denver International Airport.Tell us your story: Mobility device lost or damaged by an airline? USA TODAY wants to hear about itWashington said that if confirmed, safety will remain a top priority for him and the entire agency he would be leading. He also said he would work to make the FAA operate and evolve more efficiently.”One of my priorities is to streamline … the rulemaking process. And so absolutely, I agree that we need to move on this. I agree that we need to understand and keep pace with industry,” Washington said. “My broad transportation knowledge and real-world leadership experience of both military and transportation infrastructure systems serve me well.”Senators from smaller states on both sides of the aisle also questioned what Washington would do to support low-traffic and rural airports. Their questions were often focused on the Essential Air Service, which subsidizes flights to remote areas that might not otherwise be connected to the national air network.Learn more: How the Essential Air Service keeps small towns connected with flightsThe FAA has been without a permanent head since March 31, 2022, when the previous administrator stepped down. Washington has until March 13 to respond to further written questions from committee members.Contributing: Nathan Diller, USA TODAYZach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at email@example.com.