Members of the Senate aviation subcommittee yesterday sang the praises of Marion C. Blakey, President Bush's nominee to head the FAA. But AOPA Legislative Affairs staff attending the hearing report that a final vote on her confirmation is in an indefinite holding pattern because of dispute over an FAA union contract.
"This is a critical time for the FAA," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We encourage the Senate to act expeditiously. With new policy being set on access to airspace and aviation security, the FAA needs a strong leader in place who has the confidence of Congress, the President, and the aviation industry."
AOPA Legislative Affairs provided critical information about general aviation to committee members in advance of the hearing. Yesterday afternoon, the committee members questioned Blakey on a surprising range of technical issues, including many relating to general aviation. Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) for example, asked her if the FAA certification process was needlessly delaying the implementation of important safety advances for general aviation. Blakey replied that the FAA "always gets it right, but perhaps not as quickly as it should."
Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska reminded the nominee of the importance of general aviation in his state and suggested that she take a close look at the Capstone project, currently being demonstrated in Alaska and at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland.
Blakey had high praise for the previous administrator, Jane Garvey, and pledged to follow Garvey's practice of seeking input from all elements of the aviation community and trying to achieve consensus.
The committee moved Blakey's nomination to the next step in the process, executive committee consideration. But aviation subcommittee chairman John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said that several senators had placed a "hold" on the nomination until a dispute over a contract between the FAA and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees is resolved. The Office of Management and Budget has yet to approve the contract from the Clinton administration. With the holds in place, the executive session in which Blakey will be officially confirmed by the committee has not yet been scheduled.