Industry awaits Sturgell’s confirmation to head FAA

 - November 30, 2007, 11:33 AM

Former Top Gun instructor-pilot Robert Sturgell, who took over the FAA as acting administrator when Marion Blakey completed her five-year term on September 13, has been nominated by President Bush to run the agency for the next five years.
But it is unclear whether Sturgell will receive the required confirmation by a Democratic-controlled Senate that is loath to have a Bush appointee in charge of the FAA long after the current president leaves office.

Although general aviation and the airlines don’t agree on the FAA funding issue, they wrote a joint letter to President Bush in August urging him to appoint someone quickly to run the FAA for the next five years following Blakey’s exit. The aviation leaders said there is a “vital need to nominate a strong individual who can be confirmed as the next administrator of the [FAA]. Our nation cannot afford a recess appointee as we face the time-critical challenge of modernizing our nation’s aviation infrastructure.”

More than a decade ago, Congress legislated a five-year fixed term for the FAA Administrator to eliminate the revolving door of short-term leaders who were tied to the political process and not in office long enough to learn how to run the agency effectively.

“This is an agency that is so highly technical that past administrators have acknowledged that, despite their aviation expertise, the learning curve to become a proficient administrator is over one year,” then-congressman Norman Mineta said at the time. “The result of this combination of constant turnover and complex subject matter is that the FAA has had significant periods of time in the past several years in which the agency was being run by an administrator in training.”

Sturgell had been deputy FAA administrator since March 2003. He had also been acting as COO of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization since the departure of Russell Chew. Before becoming deputy administrator, Sturgell served as Blakey’s senior counsel. He had also held the position of senior policy advisor at the NTSB, where he served as the chairman’s primary advisor and coordinator on the Safety Board’s recommendations, policy programs and other safety initiatives. Blakey was NTSB chairman before she was tapped for the top job at the FAA.

Before joining the NTSB, Sturgell was a flight operations supervisor and line pilot for United Airlines, flying the Boeing 757 and 767 in domestic and international operations. Also an attorney, he has practiced aviation law at the Washington, D.C. law firm Shaw Pittman.