- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008


Two New Jersey senators said yesterday they would block President Bush’s choice to head the Federal Aviation Administration, explaining they are unhappy with the government’s handling of widespread flight delays that often begin in their East Coast airspace.

The president urged the Senate to “put aside politics” and confirm Robert Sturgell.

Democrats Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg said they would use a procedural device called a “hold” to block Mr. Sturgell’s nomination from going to the Senate floor for a vote.

The move will not have any immediate effect on the agency, because Mr. Sturgell is already the acting administrator, but it reflects continuing disputes between congressional Democrats and the administration over the best way to solve flight delays that have plagued U.S. air travelers in the past year, as well as runway safety issues and air controller staffing.

“I’ve had to make hard choices, sometimes unpopular choices during my tenure with the FAA. But we’ve learned to manage better and leaner. We’ve implemented financial management strategies that better serve the taxpayer while maintaining the standard of excellence under which we operate,” Mr. Sturgell said at his nomination hearing yesterday before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The government has announced new limits for takeoffs and landings at New York area airports, where many of the national delays begin. The agency is also redesigning airspace routes, which has angered some communities worried about increased noise from jets.

“It’s time for President Bush to nominate an administrator who solves transportation problems rather than creating more of them,” said Mr. Lautenberg.

Mr. Bush’s defense of Mr. Sturgell came during an appearance in the White House East Room, where the president focused on more than 180 nominations pending before the Senate.

“The Senate must confirm nominees who will help address issues of public safety,” Mr. Bush said, adding that Mr. Sturgell has the experience to get the job done.

Mr. Sturgell “has nearly 20 years of cockpit experience from his time as a Navy fighter pilot, Top Gun instructor, and commercial airline pilot,” Mr. Bush said. “He is committed to addressing problems that have caused airline delays.”

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