FAA chief seeks to move industry out of ‘dire straits’


FAA chief seeks to move industry out of ‘dire straits’

Blakey to face many challenges during tenure

By LESLIE MILLER Associated Press

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Washington — A line from an old Shirelles song is how Marion Blakey sums up the challenges she’ll face when she takes charge of the Federal Aviation Administration next week.

Speaking recently to a group of airline pilots, whose safety she fought for as chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, she warbled, “Will you still love me tomorrow?”

Her friend Joan McEntee said the off-key serenade was typical.

“It was shrewd, it was very disarming, it was very honest, and it was gutsy,” said McEntee, now senior international partner at the Baker, Donaldson law firm.

Blakey, 54, took over the NTSB 15 days after the Sept. 11 attacks. She was nominated by President Bush in July to take on the bigger job of running the nation’s aviation system at the FAA, which she has criticized as slow to act on her recommendations to make airplanes safer.

Starting Monday, Blakey will manage 100 times as many people and 21 times as much money than she did at the 450-person, $68 million safety board.

She will oversee airport expansion, FAA labor negotiations, air traffic control system modernization and the retirement of as many as 5,000 controllers in four years. Airlines are reeling from financial losses as they work to better guard against terrorist attacks.

“The industry is in really dire straits,” Blakey said. “That’s the first, if you will, large challenge that we have to help address.”

Passionate about safety

Blakey became a television presence seven weeks into her job as NTSB chief, when she reassured the nation that the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in Queens probably didn’t result from a terrorist attack.

Dressed in an official blue NTSB jacket, Blakey looked every bit the government bureaucrat, though her personal life is much less buttoned-down. A former Sunday school teacher, she’s ridden a motorcycle along half of Australia’s coast and likes to brag about her grandmother, who was Elvis Presley’s third-grade music teacher in Tupelo, Miss.

Blakey said safety concerns will undergird everything she does on the job. It’s something she’s passionate about, said her best friend, Susan Lacey, creator of the PBS series “American Masters.” “She’s been on the soapbox about it,” Lacey said.

Blakey’s challenge at the FAA will be to straighten out a sluggish, poorly structured agency, said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. “I’ve called FAA dysfunctional and she’s the person that can help make it work properly,” he said.

“They don’t act and planes fall out of the sky,” he said, adding the agency has been slow to order fixes to repeated mechanical problems with one aircraft’s rudders, another’s wiring.

“The vendors and contractors are in for a rude awakening because she won’t put up with delays, she won’t put up with excuses and she won’t put up with budget overruns,” he said.

Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, called Blakey a Southern version of Jane Garvey, whose five-year term as FAA administrator expired in August. Garvey had excellent people skills and worked well with Congress, he said.

Michael J. Boyd, president of the aviation consulting firm Boyd Group in Evergreen, Colo., criticized Blakey as a political hire with little aviation experience. “A giant unknown,” he said.

Government career

Blakey grew up in Montgomery, Ala., the daughter of an insurance lawyer and an English teacher. Religion played a big role in their lives, said her only sibling, Leslie Blakey.

That — and her accent — remained with her, Leslie said.

“Her voice and accent haven’t changed since the day she stepped on the train to Mary Washington College at the University of Virginia,” she said.

Upon graduation, she and Lacey bought a Capitol Hill row house for $25,000 and renovated much of it themselves.

Blakey was embarking on a government career that took her from the National Endowment for the Humanities through the Department of Education, the White House and the Commerce Department. When the Democrats moved into the White House in 1993, she started a small public relations firm that her sister later joined and now helps run.


Position: Administrator of FAA

Age: 54. Born March 26, 1948

Education: Bachelor of science in foreign service, Mary Washington College, 1970; Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies, 1973; Universita di Firenza, Florence, Italy, 1969.


— Various positions at the National Endowment of the Humanities, departments of Commerce, Education and Transportation

— Special assistant to the president, 1987-’88

— Founder of public relations firm, Blakey & Associates, in 1993

— National Transportation Safety Board director, September 2001

Family: Husband William Ryan Dooley, 15-year-old daughter

Source: Associated Press

Copyright 2002 Journal Sentinel Inc. Note: This notice does not

apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through

wire services or other media

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

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