New pilot at FAA

RETIRED US Navy Adm. Donald Engen must move quickly to bring tough new management reform to the Federal Aviation Administration. Mr. Engen, who was officially confirmed by the Senate for his post as administrator of the FAA, takes over an agency that has been buffeted in recent years by airline deregulation and labor turmoil. In addition, the airline industry itself has been engaged in a fare war - a no-holds-barred contest that has helped push some carriers into bankruptcy.

It seems only appropriate that Mr. Engen, like his immediate predecessor, J. Lynn Helms, is a pilot. He has also been a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. Both experiences should give him special insight into the challenges faced by airlines flight crews, as well as the importance of rebuilding the air traffic control system.

The control system, it might be recalled, was disrupted by the illegal strike of air traffic controllers back in August of 1981.

Many strikers were fired. The system has been training and replacing controllers since then.

To his credit, outgoing administrator Helms, who announced his decision to step down from the FAA earlier this year, has already made many needed changes in FAA performance, such as developing a modernization program.

And Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole has also taken a strong interest in the FAA. In fact, in February Mrs. Dole announced that the FAA's inspection force - the groups of individuals who oversee all aspects of airline operations, flight performance, and maintenance - would be increased by 30 percent.

Some members of Congress have faulted the agency in recent months because of sharp declines in the numbers of inspectors. In 1981 there were 638 inspectors. By 1983 there were 534. Because of the new program, there will be a total of 674 .

Obviously, it is important that selection and training standards for the new inspectors be kept at the highest possible standard.

The most crucial challenge facing Mr. Engen will be to complete a modernization program begun under Mr. Helms to replace outdated equipment for the FAA.

The multibillion-dollar program, as currently envisioned, will be one of the most ambitious modernization projects ever undertaken by a civilian federal agency.

It is important that it be handled efficiently and economically, so as not to disrupt regular day-to-day FAA responsibilities.

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