When FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey leaves her post in mid-September, she will join a lobby group for the aerospace industry.
Blakey, 59, will become the president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group for aerospace equipment manufacturers, including giants such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Industry sources said the White House is mulling using a recess appointment to replace Blakey after Congress leaves town at the end of the first session of the 110th Congress. In the interim, Deputy Administrator Robert Sturgell would probably be named acting administrator.
One potential successor to Blakey is Barbara Barrett, an aviation lawyer who was deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration under President Ronald Reagan and former vice chairman of the FAA's predecessor, the Civil Aeronautics Board. If appointed, she would become the third in a string of female administrators. Blakey succeeded Jane Garvey.
Blakey leaves the FAA at a critical juncture, as Congress struggles to pass legislation that will reauthorize the agency for the next four years, a situation that has concerned many on Capitol Hill. During a July 12 hearing of the aviation subcommittee he chairs, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., asked Blakey if she'd consider staying temporarily until the reauthorization is done. Blakey politely dodged the question.
Though Democratic members have not always agreed with Blakey's policies, primarily attempts to outsource air traffic controllers, her gracious Southern mien and willingness to testify have made her popular on Capitol Hill.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committees have each approved measures to reauthorize the agency (S 1300, HR 2881), but the tax-writing committees in both chambers have yet to mark up provisions of the reauthorization dealing with fuel taxes -- a critical piece that is holding up consideration of the entire measure.
The Democratic leadership has indicated that it wants to complete an FAA bill this fall, but whether that will be before the current authorization (PL 108-176) expires Sept. 30 remains to be seen. A House aide said the Ways and Means Committee may mark up its piece the first week back from recess. But so far the Senate Finance Committee has yet to indicate when it might move.
Additionally, a veto threat is expected over provisions in the House bill that would change the way the FAA resolves union disputes. The portion Republicans particularly dislike would effectively re-open a contract the FAA imposed on its unionized controllers last summer.
Blakey has a long transportation pedigree. Prior to taking the reins at the FAA, she chaired the National Transportation Safety Board, and in the early 1990s she was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Blakey has overseen the FAA since September 2002, including battles over air traffic controller outsourcing, control tower privatization, the burgeoning private spaceflight industry, ballooning flight delays and the safest period in commercial aviation history.
At the Aerospace Industries Association, she succeeds John W. Douglass, who has served as president and CEO since September 1998 and will remain with AIA through year's end to "provide counsel and ensure a smooth transition," the association said.