A presidential aviation panel concluded Monday major changes are needed to keep America's skies safe for air travel, including the appointment of a new "safety czar" and surprise airline inspections.

"After months of study, hearings, meetings around the country and staff reports, the Aviation Safety Commission unanimously concludes that the nation's air transportation system is safe," the report said. "However, safety is being maintained to an increasing extent through delays and other inconveniences."The commission chairman, John Albertine, said the panel agreed "that a major overhaul of the pres-ent safety regulatory structure is absolutely essential . . . to equip the system to accommodate future growth and technological change."

The report called for an independent Federal Aviation Authority headed by an administrator who is appointed by the president for a fixed term. Under the present system, the FAA is part of the Transportation Department.

The new authority should also have an independent "safety czar" responsible for maintaining the safety of the aviation system, the report said.