SEN. NANCY L. KASSEBAUM, R-Kan., is best known these days as one of the senators who bucked the administration's policy of constructive disengagement in South Africa and forced the imposition of sanctions against that country.

To us she is equally well-known for her legislative efforts in the field of aviation, as chairwoman of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.The senator from Kansas, whose father is Alfred Landon, the Republican presidential candidate soundly defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, will lose her chairmanship when the Democrats take control of the Senate next Congress. But we hope she doesn't abandon her interest in the aviation industry, its employees and its customers, all of which she has served well.

Sen. Kassebaum deserves high praise for her depth of knowledge of aviation issues and her untiring efforts to solve the difficult problems confronting the airline industry.

Most of all, she deserves recognition for her independence. She didn't buckle under to administration policy when she felt a policy was wrong. Her resistance was a hallmark, it seems, of the entire Republican-con trolled Senate the past six years.

Sen. Kassebaum fought the Department of Transportation's decision to recognize airport landing rights at capacity-restricted airports as the private property of airlines and something that could be bought and sold on an open market.

She also opposed the White House by seeking protection for airline employees hurt by the industry's rapid consolidation over the past year, and fought to maintain a universal air travel system, one that pays as much attention to small communities as large ones.

She was a critic, too, of the Federal Aviation Administration, keeping heat on the agency to rebuild the nation's air traffic control force that was decimated by the illegal controllers' strike in the early days of the Reagan presidency.

Having such a fair-minded, independent and hard-working legislator in the chair of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee during the free-for-all years immediately following industry deregulation was a real plus, for the industry and especially for the traveling public. And that is why we hope she will continue to play an active role in aviation matters.

There will be much to do on the aviation front when the new Congress convenes in January. The coming year marks the end of the current Airport and Airways Improvement Program and the taxes that support it. Both airline and airport executives want radical changes in the program, and rightfully so. As structured, much of the tax money goes unspent and needed improvements are delayed.

The growth in air travel the past few years has been phenomenal, and there are no signs the growth will slow down. That being the case, the need for planning, and spending, to assure an efficient and safe air transportation system is all the greater. Sen. Kassebaum has done a fine job in the past. She can do even more in the future.

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