[This post has been updated]
Three days after his arrest on a drunken driving charge in Fairfax, J. Randolph “Randy” Babbitt resigned as head of the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday.
In an e-mail to FAA employees, Babbitt said he decided to step aside with a very heavy heart since I love working here at the FAA and with all of you.
“It truly has been the highlight of my professional career,” he wrote.
Babbitt’s ouster seemed inevitable after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood first learned of the arrest from a police press release more than 36 hours after the incident.
“What I told Randy is that I was very disappointed with the way that I learned about this,” LaHood said Tuesday afternoon, hours before Babbitt’s ouster.
Babbitt’s departure, less than half way through his five-year term, leaves the FAA in turmoil, beset by a series of recent stumbles, facing funding uncertainty and tasked with developing a $40 billion GPS-based system expected to revolutionize air travel.
Given LaHood’s mantra of “safety” above all else and his commitment to combating drunken driving, he was thrust into an untenable position but the arrest of a top lieutenant responsible for aviation safety.
“As FAA Administrator, Randy Babbitt has been a dedicated public servant and outstanding leader,” LaHood said after the resignation. ”On behalf of the American people, I thank him for his service and his leadership.”
LaHood placed Babbitt on administrative leave at his request on Monday.
The reins of the FAA will at least temporarily be in the hands of Deputy Administrator Michael P. Huerta, who joined the agency 16 months ago.
President Obama appointed Babbitt, 65, to a five-year term as FAA administrator in 2009. Babbitt logged 25 years as a pilot for Eastern Air Lines before heading the pilots association and working as a consultant.
He was pulled over about 10:30 p.m. Saturday by an officer who saw him driving alone on the wrong side of the road on Old Lee Highway, a four-lane thoroughfare about nine miles from his Reston home, police said.
Authorities described Babbitt as cooperative, and he was released without bail from the Adult Detention Center. Police did not release Babbitt’s blood alcohol level, but .08 is the threshold to bring charges of driving while intoxicated in Virginia. He is scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 2.