WASHINGTON, D.C. — Marion Blakey’s term as FAA administrator expires Sept. 13. She will become president of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), the lobbying trade group of companies involved primarily with military and commercial aerospace.
At one time, nine companies that produced general aviation aircraft and engines were a part of AIA. They were called the Utility Airplane Council of AIA. That was nearly 40 years ago. Even then airlines were trying to boot general aviation out of the sky, so the nine companies broke away from AIA and formed the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA).
Although trade groups still have their differences, 16 aviation-oriented associations — not including AIA — joined to urge President Bush to appoint an able, talented, strong individual for the next five-year term as head of the FAA.
In 1958, Congress established the FAA after a series of midair collisions, including two airliners colliding over the Grand Canyon. Since then, 15 people have held the post of administrator, including three generals and one admiral, although the enabling legislation stated no military individual may hold the post. They got around it by temporarily resigning their commissions. All administrators have been personable. Their views about the position of general aviation have varied. Hardly had the first administrator, Gen. Elwood “”Pete”” Quesada, taken office before he and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association tangled, for example.
FAA administrators have always been political appointees, often in the position because they were supporters of the person in the White House. The FAA has been run by the “”Weebes””— civil service career employees who say of each administrator: “”We be here when you came and we be here after you leave.””
Many of the administrators were just beginning to learn their jobs — and enough about civil aviation to do that job — when they were replaced.
Whoever takes over on Sept. 14 — a new appointee or acting administrator — will have a busy first few weeks. Congress is back and taking up FAA reauthorization, which needs action by the end of September and includes dealing with the contentious user fee issue.
The struggle between most of general aviation on one side and the airlines and administration on the other has heated to a fever pitch. Airlines have pulled out all the stops, going not only to members of Congress but also getting their message to the media and the general public. Heavily financed, the airline industry has been able to reach many media outlets with its story more often and in more places than have general aviation interests. Airlines have not been accurate in their positions, transferring their own actions that cause delays to others and painting themselves and their customers as the injured parties. This has caused general aviation to spend much of its time and resources trying to correct these claims.
The airlines’ story is emotional, while general aviation tries to respond with facts and logic. As an old instructor in advertising and public relations, I informed my students that for every act a person does based on reason, that person will do 20 based on emotion.
Another element: the airlines are united in their effort; general aviation is depending on a loosely knit coalition. The Alliance for Aviation Across America has literally scores of members including associations, civic organizations, economic development groups, city, regional and state officials, and large and small businesses that know the value of general aviation. One major supporter and founding member of the alliance is the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO).
A member of the U.S. Congress should admit that aviation officials in each state know much more about the value of air transportation than federal officials. However, indicative of the knowledge at the federal level might be this personal experience: I sent an email to a congressman urging support of the FAA bill passed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Several days later I received an email form letter reply thanking me for my interest and views on ecology legislation!
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.