Blakey confirmed as 15th FAA Administrator

 - May 6, 2008, 9:55 AM

After serving less than a year as chairman of the NTSB, Marion Blakey last month became the 15th Administrator of the FAA. She succeeds Jane Garvey, who was the first woman to head the agency and the first to be appointed to a congressionally mandated five-year term.

Blakey was sworn in Friday, September 13, and spent the following weekend shuttling between NTSB and FAA offices. Her first full day at her new job was Monday, September 16. Before acting FAA Administrator Monte Belger ended his 28-year federal career on September 13, he “signed off” on FAR Part 91 Subpart K, forwarding the fractional-ownership regulations to the Transportation Department for final review.

Blakey was nominated by President Bush in July after having earlier turned down the job. Although she sailed through a confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, her approval was delayed by three senators who placed “holds” on her nomination over a labor dispute between the FAA and one of its unions. But the flap began several years ago and is in the process of being resolved, and Blakey had nothing to do with it.

Despite a ringing endorsement from the committee, the procedural holds delayed a committee vote and the forwarding of her name to the full Senate for final consent. That prompted The Washington Post to print an editorial accusing the three anonymous legislators of being “childish…juvenile delinquents.” Four days later the full Senate voted to confirm the Bush nominee.

At Blakey’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chair of the aviation subcommittee, cautioned her that the job of FAA Administrator “is one of the five most difficult and least understood positions in the federal government.”

Like Garvey, Blakey is not a pilot and has little aviation experience. But the former FAA head silenced nearly all of her early critics and won the respect of the aviation industry. She also won over most of the lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as evidenced by Rockefeller’s comment that “I am an unabashed fan of Jane Garvey.”

Even the often-irascible Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who frequently chastised Garvey and the FAA, admitted she “served with distinction.” He said he initially had doubts about Garvey’s qualifications and suggested Blakey may face the same questions.

While Blakey may not have any direct aviation experience, her public-affairs consulting firm dealt with aviation issues, and she already has a reputation as a good manager with a keen interest in aviation. Last spring, while at the NTSB, she spent a day in the jumpseat of a US Airways jet plying the East Coast so she could see first-hand the complexity of the airspace system, ATC interaction and the operational realities pilots face.    

Politically Connected

The 54-year-old Blakey is also well plugged into the Bush Administration, having served appointments in the Reagan and first Bush Administrations. She is also considered a close political ally of Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff. Her connections with the President’s hierarchy are considered a plus for the FAA, which did not always have direct access to the White House when post-September 11 aviation decisions were being made.

Both NBAA and AOPA already boast prior working relationships with Blakey. “Fortunately, we will be able to build on an already healthy relationship with the agency’s new leader that reflects a mutual recognition and appreciation for business aviation,” said NBAA president Jack Olcott. “NBAA is eager to work effectively with Administrator Blakey as she addresses the significant challenges confronting the FAA and the aviation community.”

AOPA president Phil Boyer said that in a meeting in June, Blakey showed “immense” interest in a presentation on general aviation and GA safety. Describing her as politically astute, Boyer said, “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 leader is the ability to work effectively with both parties in Congress and with the top levels of the administration.”