Two former heads of the Federal Aviation Administration urged yesterday that the FAA be removed from the Transportation Department to restore order to the overburdened and sometimes chaotic aviation system.
Donald D. Engen, who retired from the FAA in July, and Najeeb Halaby, who headed the agency in 1961-65, told a Senate aviation subcommittee that the FAA could operate more efficiently and deal with critical issues more swiftly if it were independent.
The FAA has been part of the department since the latter was created in 1966.
But Alan Boyd, the first transportation secretary, warned against losing the power of a Cabinet-level broker. He said the FAA's troubles are mostly financial and cannot be solved by reorganization.
"You're going down a blind alley going for an independent agency," Boyd said. "A Cabinet member draws a lot more water than the chairman of an independent agency. The problem is not going to be solved if the FAA is cast adrift."
The ex-officials were the first of several witnesses that Sen. Wendell H. Ford (D-Ky.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation aviation subcommittee, said he intends to call in his effort to create an independent FAA. Ford and others are sponsoring legislation to establish an independent FAA, whose leader would be appointed to a seven-year term.
Ford said he drafted the bill because Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole and her staff "have found it increasingly necessary to meddle in nearly every action taken by the FAA." He said this "constant interference" has hindered FAA efforts to regulate aviation operations and ensure passenger safety.
Boyd said he "deplores the thought of political interference with the FAA," adding, "I think the current situation is an aberration."
Halaby said that in 1966, he thought the FAA could retain autonomy as part of the department. He also supported combining all modes of transportation into one department where a comprehensive plan could be developed. "I'm sorry to say I don't believe those ideals have been realized," he said.
Engen encouraged Ford to create a "Department of Air and Space" with Cabinet rank by combining the FAA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
It is widely believed that Engen, who abruptly announced his retirement last spring, left the FAA because of frustration with department officials who often overruled his decisions.