Sturgell picks up just where Blakey left off in promising tough action against airline over-scheduling practices

New FAA administrator Bobby Sturgell is vowing to follow through on his predecessor's vow of tough action on airline "over-scheduling" practices.

Sturgell has been acting administrator since Marion Blakey stepped down in September and in late October was nominated by president George W Bush to become permanent administrator.

Sturgell, who was Blakey's right hand aide during her last three years in term, tells Airline Business that the situation at the three major New York City airports is "critical. It is bad and was going to get worse". Sturgell says the agency was "reluctant" to propose caps on flights at JF Kennedy Airport but saw no choice but to act.

Sturgell, 48, flew Boeing 757s and 767s as a pilot for United ­Airlines after leaving the US Navy. He holds a law degree and worked with Blakey when she was National Transportation Safety Board chairman, serving as her chief policy adviser between 2002 and 2003 before following her to the FAA.

The Air Transport Association strongly supports the nomination of Sturgell and business aviation interest groups have also welcomed him. But Sturgell's nomination to succeed Blakey for the fixed five-year term may face some opposition in a Democrat-controlled Senate that has been reluctant to confirm Bush White House nominees.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has vowed to fight his nomination because contract talks have been stalled since April 2006. Some in general ­aviation also vow to fight the nomination because Sturgell was intimately involved in the administration's proposals to revise the charging system for air traffic control services. These opponents object to the proposed transfer of some charges from scheduled carriers to private aircraft operators.

The administration's FAA funding proposal has been bogged down in congressional debate, and the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, has passed a version that does not include the proposed "user fees".

Sturgell's biggest challenge will be persuading the Senate to push through the administration's version of the bill while keeping the FAA running with a series of stop-gap funding measures until both chambers finalise a bill.

Source: Airline Business