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FAA chief steps down after arrest

He is accused of drunken driving - a subject his boss has campaigned against.

WASHINGTON - Randy Babbitt resigned Tuesday as head of the Federal Aviation Administration after his arrest over the weekend on charges of drunken driving.

Babbitt, 65, was about halfway through a five-year term as the nation's top aviation official. Deputy FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will serve as acting administrator. Industry officials and lawmakers said they expected Huerta to continue in the post through next year, since the White House probably will want to avoid a possible nomination fight before the presidential election.

In recent months, Huerta has been leading the FAA's troubled NextGen effort to transition from an air-traffic control system based on World War II-era radar technology to one based on satellite technology. Huerta was managing director of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and held several senior Transportation Department posts during Bill Clinton's administration.

Babbitt was arrested Saturday night in Fairfax City, Va., by a patrolman who said he was driving on the wrong side of the road.

Babbitt said in a statement that he had submitted his resignation to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and that it had been accepted.

"I am unwilling to let anything cast a shadow on the outstanding work done 24 hours a day, seven days a week by my colleagues at the FAA," Babbitt said. "They run the finest and safest aviation system in the world and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to work alongside them."

LaHood thanked Babbitt for his service, saying that under his stewardship the nation's aviation system "became safer and stronger."

Earlier in the day, LaHood told reporters he was disappointed to learn of Babbitt's arrest from a news release issued Monday by the Fairfax City police department.

It is that department's policy to disclose the arrests of public officials. Babbitt, who lives in nearby Reston, was the only occupant in the vehicle, police said. He cooperated and was released on his own recognizance, they said. They did not disclose the results of Babbitt's blood alcohol test. The legal limit is 0.08.

LaHood has aggressively campaigned against drunken driving and is working with police agencies and safety advocates on an annual holiday crackdown on drinking and driving.

Babbitt was a former airline captain and internationally recognized expert in aviation and labor relations when Obama tapped him in 2009 to head the FAA. He was a pilot for now-defunct Eastern Airlines for 25 years and was president of the Air Line Pilots Association in the 1990s.