Najeeb E. Halaby, a lawyer, Navy test pilot and venture capitalist who headed the Federal Aviation Administration and Pan American World Airways and was the father of a queen, has died. He was 87.
Halaby died Wednesday at his home in McLean, Va., of congestive heart failure.
Over the years, long before his daughter Lisa became a celebrity as Queen Noor of Jordan, the sharp-featured and dashing Halaby was a prominent figure in the official and cultural life of Washington.
A pioneering test pilot during World War II, he settled in the Washington area in the late 1940s and held federal jobs involving military security and foreign affairs. He was an executive in the budding aerospace industry and was known to insist on firsthand experience when regulatory concerns emerged over, for example, allowing skydiving from a certain aircraft model.
When President Kennedy appointed Halaby to the FAA in 1961, the media heralded him as a man who knew about the business he would be regulating.
It was the start of the age of jet-powered transport, and the FAA had recently doubled in size. Halaby, who was administrator until 1965, decentralized authority and was a central force in creating the FAA Flight Academy in Oklahoma City.
Juan Trippe, chairman and founder of now-defunct Pan Am, selected Halaby as his successor in 1969. During his three years as chief executive, Halaby saw the airline suffer financial problems as competition mounted and the company was unable to secure domestic routes. He also was the victim of some of his own innovations, including the purchase of an expensive new fleet of Boeing 747s that indebted the company for years.
He was, however, credited with expanding the airline’s profitable InterContinental Hotels chain and with starting a route that would fly Vietnam War troops, at no cost to them, on their furloughs. After Pan Am, he headed his own New York-based investment business, Halaby International, specializing in Middle East aviation ventures.
Najeeb Elias Halaby was born in Dallas to a mother who was a native of Texas and an Arab American father. In later life, he was to describe his father as a businessman who “could have sold Stars of David in the middle of Baghdad.”
His parents ran an art and interior design business that was part of the original Neiman Marcus store.
Halaby was a graduate of Stanford University, where he was captain of the golf team, and Yale University Law School.
He helped organize the Navy’s first test pilot school, was a test pilot for the first U.S. jet plane, the Bell P-59, and made the first continuous transcontinental jet flight.
After the war, he was a foreign affairs advisor to Defense Secretary James Forrestal and helped develop military assistance programs. He was deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs when he resigned in 1953 to help Laurence Rockefeller oversee family business enterprises.
His marriage to Doris Carlquist Halaby ended in divorce. He was married to Jane Allison Coates Halaby from 1980 until her death in 1996.
Survivors include his wife of six years, Libby Cater Halaby of McLean; three children from the first marriage, Lisa, who became Queen Noor in 1978 when she married King Hussein of Jordan, Christian Halaby of Atherton, Calif., and Alexa Halaby of Washington; and 14 grandchildren.