Marion C. Blakey

President and Chief Executive Officer, Aerospace Industries Association


he new president and chief executive officer of the most powerful aerospace lobbying organization in Washington

is something of a stranger to the world of space. She knows the air-breathing world well, having led both the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, which she left in September 2007 to join the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA). Marion C. Blakey has held other positions that required U.S. Senate confirmation. From 1992 to 1993, she led the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is charged with reducing deaths, injuries

and economic losses from car and truck crashes.

The selection of Blakey, who was chosen by its 100 member companies to lead AIA, aqpparently reflects recognition of a significant shift in the U.S. aerospace business from military programs to commercial


. In her interview she said there are three large priorities she sees for the organization: recapitalizing defense;

funding the



air traffic control system; and funding NASA’s

Constellation program

including development of the Ares launch vehicle and Orion crew capsule.

Blakey is a Republican from the heart of the American south, Alabama, where s

he grew up playing with Confederate money and swords carried by her ancestors during the American Civil War in what was known as the “plunder room” at her house. Later in life, she and her husband traveled well outside the South and the Beltway, riding an 850cc motorcycle around the perimeter of Australia. Blakey spoke with Space News staff writer

Colin Clark recently

in her comfortable office overlooking

the Potomac River and much of official Washington.

What role will AIA play in improving space acquisition and demonstrating to Congress that it is improving?

Of course, we very much feel that there should be strong and balanced funding in the broad areas where space acquisition is involved. And that goes of course to everything from the support for the Constellation program to continuing other kinds of funding – to missile defense, for example, where you’ve had good funding of late, but one would want to ensure there was a continued appreciation of that.

Will the new

White House

arms export licensing procedures

make a difference?

It will require very strong cooperation between the several agencies involved to make this a genuine important step forward, as opposed to something that had

good intentions


follow-through that was

not as strong. I think that if we are able to see a considerably diminished turnaround time on licensing –

60-day turnaround times actually measured and


– if we’re able to see the combination of additional resources and … intelligence supplied to the cases brought in – certainly the more difficult cases – that could make a tremendous day-in, day-out difference in the way this is going to operate.

Are you willing to take it to the next level, perhaps in the next administration, and try

to actually get the law changed?

I have been very interested in the debate so far about whether most of the significant changes that would advance modernizing export control really are embedded in statute versus embedded in regulation and administrative practice. I want to see that laid out and have a better understanding of it before making assumptions about where you really have to drive for change. And it all has to be changed within the context of modernizing but enhancing our security. We need to be certain that we are controlling the right things as well as trying to address streamlining the process.

Are you willing to tackle the problems export controls have meant for those building commercial satellites – the only item on the U.S. Munitions List that was placed there by law?

We’d like to understand better at this stage what this administration sees as next steps on a number of fronts. So we’ll hold that one to see where the details come in, because just as you rightly pointed out, with this announcement [about the new export policy], we don’t have a lot of the details.

We understand AIA has begun an effort to educate

the various U.S. presidential campaigns on aerospace issues. Do you plan to step this up? Is space a particular focus of this effort?

Absolutely. It’s interesting because we believe space is important in the campaign on several dimensions. Certainly in terms of technological leadership,

U.S. leadership in space is historic, something that our country has gotten a great deal out of from an economic and a scientific standpoint. We think this is something candidates should be talking about and capitalizing on.

Space also is important from the standpoint of the next generation and the young people we are going to need to be the backbone of what will

very much be an economy based on aerospace and space-based assets. The kids who are familiar enough with the technology when they’re in the fourth and fifth grade will be vital

to our ability to have a vibrant space program.

One of the things we worry about is the

gap we will have between the retirement of the space shuttle and the development of the

Constellation hardware. That’s five years where people are not seeing the United States

in the forefront of manned spaceflight.

I think that could

have an effect on a generation of kids out there. We really want to point them towards the stars, not in directions that are not going to support us when we need them later on.

Are you hitting each campaign? Or are you targeting the front-runners?

We are targeting each campaign. We have worked very hard to reach all the candidates staff and office. I haven’t had the opportunity yet to speak individually to all the candidates; certainly that will become more focused as the field narrows.

How high a priority will

space have

within the larger aerospace community at AIA?

I’m not the best person to judge priorities and rankings because I do not have the longer-term context on this. What I can tell you is that some might say I spent a disproportionate amount of my time at FAA on space. The commercial space arena there is very small, but it’s the future. We’re going to see a tremendous amount of the entrepreneurial drive that will not only fuel the advances in space but I think it is going to pull a lot of aerospace technology with it.

If I were trying to encapsulate though what I think particularly this year and now in an election year, we need to be talking about, I certainly would say that the modernization of our defense inventory and recapitalization is critical and I don’t think enough is being said about that or talked about in that

area. But that is going to be a major priority for the country. The next-generation air transportation system, with a satellite-based air traffic control system, is

self-evidently important, but we’re going to have to ask all of our elected leaders to step up to the financial needs and the sustained drive there to get it done, because it is not easy to do. We also desperately need to support manned spaceflight and the Constellation program.

There was a lot of talk when you were named that your selection marked a shift in AIA and in the industry generally

from AIA’s

defense focus.

I was surprised to be asked to join AIA because I’m as aware as the next person that it’s been seen as a very powerful voice with a lot of focus on the defense side. That’s been its history. What I think is the broad definition here, which goes beyond my leadership, is that we need to have a good balance between the two sectors [commercial and military] and we

need to recognize that for many of our companies, during this period of time, that’s where a lot of their revenue will come from.

As you probably know, we saw a shift in revenue, not only for 2007 but what we’re projecting out, move substantially to the civil programs. So civil sales are up, robust, and despite the kind of global uncertainties in terms of the economy, you have a very good profile for the next few years in terms of commercial

aircraft sales.

It is important to recognize that is

going to continue to be important to our companies

– both the major companies and the suppliers. At the same time, the balance has got to be there, because just as you say, the defense industry’s prime customer is right here in Washington. And we have to work that.

What attributes do you bring to the job that members of the House and Senate authorization and appropriations subcommittees that impact aerospace will appreciate?

I very much enjoy working with lawmakers and their staff and have made a point to make it based on candor, transparency and a healthy respect for the responsibilities they carry because they’re critical to the country and are critical to our industry. I also believe that much of the best work I have done working with Congress is based on really strong data and the analytic capabilities of our organizations.