Oberstar Dead At 79

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Former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., died unexpectedly early Saturday at his home in Potomac, Md. Oberstar was keenly interested in aviation and was viewed by aviation groups as an ally on Capitol Hill because of his consistent stand against user fees. He served 18 consecutive terms as the representative for northeastern Minnesota before being edged by Republican Chip Cravaack in the 2010 election. Tributes poured in for Oberstar from aviation leaders over the weekend and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association was first off the mark, calling Oberstar "a true champion of aviation safety." 

In a statement, NATCA noted that he fought for increased safety standards in aviation and all other types of transportation, noting Oberstar was the first recipient of its Sentinel of Safety Award. "The work he has done on behalf of aviation safety is unparalleled," NATCA's statement said. AOPA President Mark Baker said Oberstar "was a champion for GA, serving as a voice of reason in Congress," while GAMA President Pete Bunce said he "understood the importance of a healthy general aviation industry." NATA President Tom Hendricks called Oberstar one of aviation's "greatest proponents." Oberstar and his wife Jean retired to Potomac after his election defeat but he maintained a house in his boyhood home of Chisolm. A family statement said Oberstar died in his sleep but did not give a cause. Funeral arrangements will be announced later.