House panel questions FAA management, spending

Democratic and Republican members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee Thursday grilled FAA Administrator Marion Blakey over the Bush administration's management of the agency, pushing Blakey to provide them with a list of spending and management reform priorities.

Legislators questioned how federal security upgrades were done, as well as focusing on spending on airport facility maintenance. Blakey told the panel she hopes to focus spending of the federal aviation trust fund on capital investments and capacity upgrades. The administrator noted that although the drop in air travel following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has hurt the industry, it does provide an opportunity to boost capacity without temporarily reducing airports' ability to serve existing passengers.

Blakey also defended an administration proposal to require local governments to pay a portion of the costs to operate the Essential Air Services program, which subsidizes flights to small community airports. As part of the White House's FAA reauthorization proposal, dubbed Flight-100, the EAS would be renamed the Essential Transportation Service and would require participating communities to pay between 10 percent and 25 percent of the program's costs. However, under the plan, participating airports also could use some of the federal funds for needed surface transportation upgrades, which current law does not allow.