Courtesy of FAA
Courtesy of FAA

UC Riverside alumnus Michael Huerta was recently nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Association (FAA). On Jan. 9, Huerta was sworn into office, beginning his five-year term.

“I’m very honored that President Obama placed his trust in me to direct this agency,” said Michael Huerta, in a phone interview with the Highlander. “My interest is in public service, government, and business…and the FAA combines all of these areas.”

The FAA is an operating part of the U.S. Department of Transportation that regulates and oversees all aspects of civil aviation in the nation. Some roles of the association include developing and operating a system of air traffic control, regulating U.S. commercial space transportation, and researching and developing the National Airspace System.

“It’s a big industry and it’s important for global competitiveness and ensuring a strong economy,” said Huerta.

Huerta specifically oversees a $15.9 billion dollar budget as well as over 47,000 employees. He also oversees the FAA’s multi-billion dollar NextGen air traffic control modernization program.

Prior to joining the FAA, Huerta held senior positions at Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) from 2002 to 2009. He then rose to the position of President of the Transportation Solutions Group. ACS is presently a Xerox company specializing in business processes and information technology.

Huerta was also commissioner of New York City’s Department of Ports, International Trade and Commerce from 1986-89. From 1989 to 1993, he served as the Executive Director of the Port of San Francisco. He then held senior positions in the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C. from 1993 to 1998, serving under Secretary Federico Pena and Secretary Rodney E. Slater

Huerta notes that his interest in government stems from his undergraduate education at UCR. “My undergraduate advisor, Ron Loveridge, got me excited about the notion of working in government.” Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Huerta eventually earned a master’s degree in international relations from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Huerta expressed words of encouragement to current students at UCR, “It is possible to over plan things but you want to think big and keep an open mind.”

Raised in Riverside, Huerta attended Notre Dame High School before graduating from UCR. He still maintains a strong connection with his alma mater to this day and winvited back last October to speak on campus.

“Michael is top tier in terms of continued connection and support of the campus,” said Kyle Hoffman, the former assistant vice chancellor of alumni and constituent relations at UCR of 22 years. Hoffman, now the vice chancellor for development and alumni relations at UC Merced, said that Huerta won the first Outstanding Young Alumnus award in 1986.

“Having UCR alumni in higher positions raises the profile of the school… it benefits all those who graduate, especially undergraduates,” said Elliot Miller, a recent alumnus of UCR master’s program in physics.

Shortly after Huerta’s appointment, the FAA made headlines when it grounded Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner passenger jets, due to a potential fire risk with the onboard lithium-ion battery. One of the 787s, operated by All Nippon Airways, made an emergency landing in Japan.

“The FAA will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the U.S. 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible,” according to a press release.

Huerta is faced with the task of reassessing design, manufacture and assembly evaluation that deemed the aircraft as initially safe—Boeing Co. stocks dropped by 3 percent within hours of the incident.