Rolls-Royce North America named Marion C. Blakey president and chief executive of the jet engine manufacturer Tuesday, ending her tenure as head of one of Washington’s biggest defense trade groups.

Blakey was president and chief executive of the Arlington-based Aerospace Industries Association for seven years.

She wasn’t planning to leave the association, Blakey said.

“This came to me very much as a surprise opportunity,” she said.

Rolls-Royce executives approached her at the beginning of the year. The ability to lead the British brand’s expansion into the U.S. defense market amid a tough budget environment was exciting, she said.

Marion C. Blakey, former president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, has been named President and Chief Executive Officer of Rolls-Royce North America. (Rolls-Royce/BusinessWire)

As leader of the association, Blakey was a vocal critic of the federal budget cuts known as sequestration.

Looking ahead in her new role, she said the defense industry’s fight to end sequestration wasn’t over.

“It is a longer term battle than I’d like, but it is a real burden for our country until we can accept that our national security requires real investments,” she said.

At Reston-based Rolls-Royce North America, Blakey replaces James Guyette, who retires in May.

The aerospace trade association has not yet named a successor, but Blakey will likely be involved in the selection of a new leader, a spokesman said. The association represents the interests of the nation’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of civil, military and business aircraft; unmanned aerial vehicles; space systems and information technology.

Before joining the association, Blakey served as administrator at the Federal Aviation Administration and chaired the National Transportation Safety Board.

Blakey received her bachelor’s degree in international studies from Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia and also attended the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.