The first job for Marion C. Blakey ’70 – as a GS-3 federal clerk – might not have been glamorous. But it was a step on a path that would propel her to the top of her field.
In December, she received the 2013 Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy in recognition of her leadership in aviation.
“Tonight, I am reflecting for a moment about the blessings of an unexpected career,” Blakey said in her acceptance speech in Washington, D.C.
President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association since 2007, Blakey has spent decades improving transportation safety, both on and off the ground. She’s helped reduce death and injury from motor vehicle crashes, improve accident reporting processes, enhance outreach programs, and modernize air transportation. Her time at the helm of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the mid-2000s marked the safest period in U.S. public air travel history.
Blakey also has served as administrator of the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, and principal of Blakey & Associates, a public affairs consulting firm focused on transportation issues and traffic safety.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to move in and out of government – to the private sector and then back,” Blakey said when she received the trophy, presented by the National Aeronautic Association in memory of Orville and Wilbur Wright. “Each time, my public service experience exposed me to new challenges and prepared me for the ones to come.”
One of those challenges came in the wake of the second deadliest aviation crash in U.S. history. American Airlines flight 587 slammed into the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., in November 2001, killing all 260 onboard plus five on the ground. In her brand-new role as FAA administrator, and with tensions high in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Blakey headed the investigation into the accidental crash.
She was the second woman and the second person without a pilot’s license to run the world’s largest air traffic control system, overseeing 44,000 employees and a $14 billion budget.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in international studies at Mary Washington, Blakey did graduate work in Middle East affairs at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
She’s held six presidential appointments; served in senior positions at such entities as the Department of Education, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the White House; and sat on numerous boards and committees. The Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, one of the many honors and awards she’s received throughout her career, combines her commitment to serving her country with her love of aviation.
“Where else,” Blakey asked, “can people work on projects that extend the torch of exploration to heights unknown and into frontiers unseen?”