Industry supports nominee to lead DOT

 - September 28, 2006, 10:10 AM

Mary Peters, who was head of the Federal Highway Administration from 2001 to 2005, is President Bush’s nominee for the post of Secretary of Transportation. If confirmed by the Senate, she will replace Norman Mineta, who resigned in June.

Although most of Peters’s transportation experience is in the surface modes, she had a 16-year career with the Arizona Department of Transportation, which oversees aviation and 82 airports in the nation’s sixth largest state. Before her stint with the highway administration, she spent three years as director of the Arizona DOT. Most recently Peters was a senior vice president at HDR, a major engineering firm.

Not surprisingly, general aviation groups publicly lauded Peters’s nomination but have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. While at the highway administration, she advocated tolls for building new highways, and insiders see this as a signal that she might support user fees for aviation.

“Our community will take some time early in her tenure to gauge what her position is on user fees for aviation services,” said Bob Blouin, president of the Greater Washington Business Aviation Association.

The Air Transport Association (ATA), the airline lobbying group that has proposed a system of user fees to pay for the National Airspace System, congratulated Peters on her nomination. “We look forward to working closely with the secretary on the pending reauthorization of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund and to being able to draw on her vast experience in the recent successful reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund,” said ATA president and CEO James May.

The Reason Foundation, which describes itself as a free-market think tank, called the appointment of Peters “a home run for all Americans hoping for better transportation.” According to Robert Poole, the founder and director of transportation for Reason and a tireless advocate for aviation user fees, “She challenged the status quo of fuel taxes, talking at length about expanded roles for tolls and value pricing.”

“Mary Peters is known for her extensive work on transportation issues and her inclusive approach to doing business,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “I look forward to working with her and ensuring that she is fully aware of the concerns of business aviation.”

Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, stated, “We congratulate Ms. Peters and look forward to continuing the same great working relationship on aviation issues that we had with Mr. Mineta.”

AOPA president Phil Boyer said, “AOPA fully intends to take every opportunity to take advantage of her reputation for good listening skills to explain why user fees would be harmful to the world’s best aviation system.”

When announcing her nomination, President Bush said Peters would succeed “one of our nation’s finest secretaries of transportation.” When Mineta submitted his resignation on June 20, general aviation lost a long-time advocate who opposed aviation user fees from his days in Congress in the 1980s and 1990s.