NTSB's Blakey Faces A Bumpier Ride At FAA

By John Croft and David Bond/Aviation Week & Space Technology

22-Jul-2002 10:01 AM U.S. EDT

National Transportation Safety Board Chair Marion C. Blakey by all indications will become the next FAA administrator when Jane Garvey, the first woman to hold that job, leaves office on Aug. 4 after completing her five-year term.


In a statement issued July 17, Blakey, who took over as NTSB chair last September, noted that the Bush administration had picked her to take on the assignment at a "critical time" for the aviation industry. That may be an understatement.

Unlike Garvey, who took the helm at the FAA in the third year of a six-year period of unprecedented airline industry profits, Blakey will come to the FAA in the second year of heavy losses with recovery possibly years away. Further problems include the specter of more terrorist actions and heavier involvement by the Transportation Security Administration.

Budget uncertainties will dominate Blakey's immediate agenda, the most critical being the prospect of thousands of the FAA's more than 48,000 employees being temporarily furloughed in September because the agency's $14.4-billion 2002 budget fell short when considering post-Sept. 11 security efforts. Blakey will also inherit an ongoing effort by Congress to convert the air traffic control services to a performance-based organization. At the NTSB, Blakey directs about 450 employees and a $68-million budget.

ON TAP FOR NEXT YEAR will be contract negotiations with the National Air Traffic Controllers Assn. (NATCA), the union representing the FAA's 36,000 controllers. Garvey was often criticized for making that contract too lucrative for controllers, a point that Transportation Dept. Inspector General Kenneth M. Mead has made repeatedly to Congress. Garvey said the benefits of accepting the union's pay scale have outweighed the disadvantages -- with NATCA now a willing participant in the FAA's plans to modernize the ATC system. Another sore point Blakey will face on the labor front is an ongoing contract dispute with the National Assn. of Air Traffic Specialists union, the FAA flight service station workers who provide weather briefings and pass along critical security information to pilots.

Though the obstacles are formidable, Blakey should be well qualified for the job. Like Garvey, she has a strong background in government, most recently serving as administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1992-93. Before taking the NTSB position, Blakey operated a consulting business for eight years, lobbying, in part, for airport trade organizations. She sold the consulting business earlier this year, though her sister continues to work there.

Blakey's short stint at the NTSB has been productive, with processes now in place to accelerate the closure of accident reports. She created programs calling for board members to interface one-on-one with officials in state government and the heads of federal regulatory agencies like the FAA. The goal is to close thousands of open NTSB recommendations.

Through the course of crash investigations, Blakey learned how aircraft design is changing given rapid advances in computer and guidance technology. After a meeting this spring with NASA experts analyzing the composite rudder belonging to the downed American Airlines Flight 587, Blakey said she was wowed by ongoing research on "morphing" and self-correction technologies for aircraft as well as a so-called "refuse-to-crash" avionics designed to prohibit aircraft from flying into places and things they shouldn't.

"The days of kicking the tin to get to the bottom of a crash are over," she said of that meeting. "The cause of the next major aviation accident is just as likely to be a line in software as it is the pilots forgetting to set the flaps for takeoff."

LOOKING AT THE safety-enhanced solutions from a regulator's standpoint could be an eye-opening experience for Blakey. The NTSB investigates accidents and recommends safety improvements independent of the costs involved. When the FAA acts on a safety issue, however, it must do a cost-benefit analysis, churning its way through a lengthy rulemaking process that is often hotly contested by the airlines and others who will have to pay for the increased safety.

On another front, her concerns about an increasing trend in which parties to NTSB investigations protect their own interests instead of devoting themselves fully to accident investigations, Blakey should feel right at home: That type of contentious protection of self-interest is the hallmark of industry responses to FAA rulemakings.

Blakey to be named head of FAA

July 17, 2002 Posted: 1:40 PM EDT (1740 GMT)

Marion Blakey is expected to take over the FAA.

Marion Blakey is to take over the FAA.


From Patty Davis


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Marion Blakey, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, is expected to be named the new head of the Federal Aviation Administration, CNN has learned.

Sources Wednesday said Blakey would replace current FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, who has announced her intention to leave when her term expires in early August.

The FAA administrator's term is five years.

Challenges facing the next administrator include a coming wave of retirements among air traffic controllers. The GAO estimates nearly half of today's workforce of 20,000 controllers and their supervisors are expected to retire by 2011.

Another challenge could be the possible privatization of air traffic control -- an issue the Bush administration says it is open to. Garvey's successor will also confront a continued problem with flight delays, which are expected to get worse as airline travel recovers to pre-September 11 levels.

The FAA has 48,500 employees, and some in Congress have criticized the agency as an unwieldy bureaucracy.


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