Senator urges hearing on FAA Administrator

 - March 31, 2008, 9:13 AM

While many believe that the FAA will not have a new Administrator until after the next President takes office, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee has been blasting Democrats for blocking the confirmation of acting FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell to assume the post for a full five-year term.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) charged that politics is crippling the “rudderless” agency. “This is the first time in over 10 years that the FAA has been without a permanent leader,” he said. “Congress established a five-year term for the Administrator’s position to create stability and take politics out of the equation. Members of Congress can’t have it both ways, continuing to play politics with the FAA while doling out the blame for airline safety problems.”

He was referring to comments by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the Transportation Committee, over the charges that Southwest Airlines, “with FAA complicity,” allowed at least 117 of its aircraft to fly in violation of the FARs. Of these, 47 were overdue for fuselage inspections and 70 were overdue for a mandatory inspection of critical rudder-control systems.

“What our investigation found is the most serious lapse in safety I have been aware of at the FAA in the past 23 years,” Oberstar said. He announced plans for a hearing on April 3 to investigate the matter.

Sturgell’s Senate confirmation stalled after Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, both New Jersey Democrats, placed a hold on the confirmation because of their dispute over redesign of airspace in the Northeast, concerns about recent near-collisions and runway incursions and the exodus of air traffic controllers who are retiring as soon as they become eligible.

In a letter to the two senators, Mica called their actions “a severe setback to a very wise bipartisan agreement and law” to allow for both consistency and stability in the appointment of FAA Administrator.

“The impact of leaving this vital position unfilled will be detrimental to our national aviation system and damage the progress of a number of critical pending FAA programs,” Mica wrote. “Unfortunately, your action may have the effect of causing a meltdown of critical FAA safety and modernization programs.”