A standing-room-only crowd welcomed new FAA Administrator Marion Blakey to the opening general session of AOPA Expo 2002 in Palm Springs, California, on Thursday.
Blakey was interrupted by applause numerous times as she delivered an address that was by turns humorous, complimentary to general aviation, informative, and frank.
"General aviation (GA) personifies the basic American freedom to fly," said Blakey. "The freedom to fly is the freedom to explore."
But, she said, the FAA is caught between two imperatives: advocating for the aviation system and national security. "The FAA never overlooks the opportunity to remind the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) about the need for the freedom to fly," said Blakey. "But make no mistake, national security cannot and will not be compromised."
In her speech, Blakey announced the adoption of an AOPA-proposed rule to enhance security by making it easier to identify pilots. The amendment to FAR 61.3 requires pilots to carry a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, as well as their certificate when flying. Blakey signed the final rule on Wednesday before departing for AOPA Expo. It takes effect on Monday, October 28, 2002.
She also addressed the developing relationship between TSA and the FAA. "The nation is at war, and there is a wartime sense of responsibility." Blakey said the FAA remains the primary manager of the National Airspace System and retains authority for some areas of security. But she told her audience that the FAA is not able to evaluate national security threats.
The administrator noted CIA Director George Tenet's recent statement that terrorist activity seems to be increasing again. She said many of the security restrictions will have to stay in place as long as the threats remain. But she related comments made by Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta during a meeting, at which he said the government was not going to expand temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) on a widespread basis without a specific threat.
Blakey told the crowd that pilots have every reason to expect current, consistent information from flight service stations (FSSs), and that the FAA is working closely with managers at the FSSs to improve service. She also announced that a joint FAA/Jeppesen project to provide graphical depictions of TFRs that are "down to the inch accurate" will be available to preflight briefers by early next year, and to pilots directly sometime after that. "You need a good picture," she said, "You're going to get it."
Noting that both of her first two trips out of Washington as administrator were to GA meetings (she was in Wichita recently to meet with GA manufacturers), Blakey said she considers a healthy general aviation sector vital to the United States. "Air travel is a blessing," she said in conclusion, "and will ultimately extend the greatness of our country."
The 387,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has been representing the interests of general aviation pilots since 1939. General aviation includes all flying except the scheduled airlines and the military. More than two thirds of the nation's pilots, and three quarters of the aircraft owners, are AOPA members.