FAA nominee Blakey (Photo courtesy of National Transportation Safety Board

President Bush's nominee to head the Federal Aviation Administration has run into a snag in the Senate. Bush's FAA choice, Marion C. Blakey, currently the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, received a warm reception at her Sept. 4 confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. But panel members also indicated that an unresolved labor contract with some 2,000 unionized FAA employees is holding up her confirmation.

Key issues facing the new FAA chief include next year's reauthorization of the federal airport grant and other aviation programs, whether to streamline approvals for new runways, and working on airport security issues with the Transportation Security Administration.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), told Blakey "You are eminently qualified" to be FAA Administrator, but he said he "had some reservations about moving forward" with the confirmation process. Kerry said that at the end of the Clinton administration a agreement was reached between administration officials and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) on a contract covering about 2,000 FAA workers. But that agreement has not been made final and is "in limbo," Kerry said.

Aviation subcommittee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) told Blakey , "There are some holes in your nomination, as you know. We don't want that." Rockefeller called the labor contract issue "a festering problem" and said it "potentially could affect your confirmation."

Daniel Kaufman, an AFSCME spokesman, says, "There are several holds on the nomination."

Blakey, who was nominated in July, said she wasn't aware of the problem until recently and added, "I think this does have to be resolved." She also said the matter was before an administrative law judge, whose ruling is expected "any day."

Rockefeller said he wants Blakey in the top FAA post and adds, "I think you're going to get the position."

On other issues, Blakey said that infrastructure is one key to reducing aviation delays and noted the long time it can take to get new runway projects approved. "Certainly I would like to do everything I can to make the process more efficient," she said.
She spoke in generalities about next year's FAA reauthorization. In her prepared testimony, she said, "It will be a time to assess the agency's performance, set priorities, and support its missions with the necessary funding."

She added that if confirmed, "I will work very closely with the committee to ensure that the agency's reauthorization process provides a platform, a real starting point, to ensure that we go to a new peak of both safety and efficiency."

Blakey, 54, has chaired the NTSB since last September. She was head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the last several months of the first Bush administration. From 1993 to 2001, Blakey was president of her Washington, D.C., consulting firm.