- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

An airline company chairman is being considered as the next Navy secretary, a nomination that would pave the way for filling other senior offices at the Pentagon.

A defense source said Dan McKinnon, who founded North American Airlines in 1989 and provided the plane for President Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, is a candidate.

Contacted yesterday at his corporate headquarters at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Mr. McKinnon, 70, said, “The president and the secretary of defense are the ones who make the decision.”

Mr. McKinnon, a Navy veteran, declined to say whether he has been interviewed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

A second defense source said there are four finalists for the prestigious post.

Mr. McKinnon fits Mr. Rumsfeld’s requirement that service secretaries have chief executive officer experience. He founded North American Airlines in 1989 and has a string of 15 straight profitable years in an industry plagued by bankrupt air carriers. The company leases eight big-body jets and employs nearly 600.

Mr. McKinnon made campaign contributions in 2000 and 2004 to Republican congressional campaigns, including the re-election of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, California Republican. Mr. Hunter represents the San Diego area, where Mr. McKinnon got his start in business as a newspaper and radio station owner. Mr. Hunter is a strong Rumsfeld ally.

As a Navy officer in the 1950s, Mr. McKinnon is credited with 62 sea rescues as a carrier-based helicopter pilot. He served as President Reagan’s chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, which went out of existence with airline deregulation.

He has also written military and business books, including “Bullseye Iraq,” an account of the 1981 Israeli raid on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor.

Filling the Navy post should trigger other nominations to the Senate. The current Navy secretary, Gordon England, is slated to be nominated as the next Air Force secretary.

Officials talk of the Air Force today as being devoid of civilian leadership, with the resignation of former Secretary James Roche and his under and assistant secretaries. Mr. Roche was tapped to lead the Army, but his nomination fell victim to a scandal over the Air Force’s plan to lease tanker jets from Boeing. Mr. Rumsfeld ultimately filled the Army post with Francis Harvey, a businessman.

With the confirmation of Mr. England, he would be free to fill Air Force vacancies as the service continues to reform flaws in its procurement practices uncovered in the Boeing scandal.

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