The nation's airspace is uniquely a federal government domain. The airspace belongs to all Americans; it should be managed in the broadest public interest.

I believe the nation's air traffic management system should be kept in federal hands - not turned over to private contractors - and that the best way to improve the system is to reform the Federal Aviation Administration, not sell it off.Is our current air traffic system perfect? No. Eight years after President Reagan fired virtually our entire air traffic controller work force, we still do not have enough full-performance-level controllers to adequately handle traffic at our busiest airports. It takes an average of 2.8 years for an applicant to reach that level and 125 applicants to produce one controller.

The FAA is looking at ways to recruit better-qualified applicants and to streamline screening in order to move them more qickly into hands-on training.

Beyond the air traffic control system, the FAA itself is in need of reorganization. We are at a point where the FAA must be given a special, independent status to effectively carry out its responsibilities.

The current system has created a conflict between transient administration and career middle-management. As top managers come and go with each new president, the entrenched "aerocrats" know they need not implement serious reform, since they can simply wait two or three years for the next change of administrators.

I propose that the FAA be returned to the independent status it had before it was incorporated into the Transportation Department 23 years ago. Under my proposal, the agency's director would be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate for a fixed, five-year term. This would provide continuity of administration and some insulation from political pressures.

In addition, my proposal would change the regional organization of the FAA. The current nine regions would be reduced to three, which would be given administrative functions only: payroll and record keeping. Policy and budget decisions would be in the hands of the director.

In early 1983, the Boeing Aircraft Co. applied to the FAA Northwest Mountain Region for certification of a new configuration for the B-747, removing exit doors located over the wings. The regional office reviewed the application and accompanying data for several months and approved the modification.

It was only after the first reconfigured B-747 was delivered overseas, that the FAA in Washington found out about the modification - more than one year after approval by the regional office.

It is inconceivable that a decision to remove over-wing exits and reduce the number of exits from 10 to eight, a decision so vital to the safety of the flying public, could be made by a regional office without the knowledge of FAA headquarters.

Under my legislation, such decisions will be made by the people who direct national aviation policy, not the managers of a local administrative office.

Apart from the need for reform, I am firmly convinced that the functions now served by the FAA should stay in federal hands. The purpose of the nation's air traffic control system is to provide for the safe, orderly flow of air traffic. Air traffic management is a regulatory function, properly reserved for the federal government, and it should no more be privatized than should the state highway patrol.

The airways are public. They should remain so, and their management should be in the hands of people who are directly accountable to the citizens of this country and their elected representatives.