President Bush yesterday announced his intention to nominate National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Marion C. Blakey to succeed outgoing FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. The official announcement is expected within a week's time, possibly as early as today.
"The administration is showing strategic foresight with this nomination," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "At this critical time, the FAA must have a continuity of leadership. No other potential nominee with the credentials to do the job could likely be confirmed and on the job as quickly as Marion Blakey."
AOPA has already established a working relationship with Blakey. "Although she is not a pilot, she does have a keen interest in aviation and extensive experience with transportation issues," said Boyer. "I've found her to be extremely personable and very politically astute. In my 11 years as AOPA president working with more than half a dozen FAA administrators, I've found the one quality most important for the FAA head is the ability to work effectively with both parties in Congress and with the top levels of the administration."
Blakey has also served in the Reagan and the first Bush administrations. She is a close political ally to White House Chief of Staff Andy Card. That is particularly important because during the aftermath of September 11, the FAA did not always have direct access to the people in the White House who were making decisions about the nation's aviation system.
Blakey has held four presidentially appointed positions. Two of those required Senate confirmation. She has served as the administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and as a Department of Transportation official.
That means she could take over the FAA fairly quickly. Current Administrator Jane Garvey will leave August 4. Some of the longest delays in approving new presidential appointments are security clearances and background checks. Blakey's current position and previous vetting should speed the process significantly.
AOPA's contacts within the U.S. Senate say that Blakey will not likely face any difficulty getting confirmed.
AOPA and the AOPA Air Safety Foundation have already established a working relationship with Blakey. In a two and half hour meeting some six weeks ago, Blakey and her staff showed immense interest in the presentation from Boyer and ASF Executive Director Bruce Landsberg on general aviation and GA safety. And she remarked on how effective AOPA was in working with Congress.
Blakey has been at the NTSB less than a year. She took over shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks and had to deal with the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 less than two months after her confirmation. Prior to her appointment to NTSB, she ran her own Washington-based public relations firm for eight years, specializing in transportation issues. Her clients included an organization representing airports.
If confirmed as FAA administrator, Blakey would be the second woman to hold the post, and the second to serve a five-year term (Garvey was the first in each of those categories). AOPA had successfully lobbied for a fixed term for the FAA administrator. The five-year term is intended, like the Federal Reserve Board chairman's six-year term, to remove the position from political intrigue.
"But the FAA administrator is still a political appointment," said Boyer. "AOPA believes it's crucial that the administrator both understands all aspects of aviation, including general aviation, and be politically astute to work with Congress. And as we have in the past, the association will work closely with whomever fills the position."