FAA’s greatest career employee has passed

Joe Del Balzo
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From an entry engineer position he rose to the top position in the FAA

Rare for a career employee to occupy the political positions

Tremendous talent with people, comand of numbers and a highly credible spokesperson for aviation safety 

Joe Del Balzo is no longer with us. He passed last week after a courageous battle with cancer. Those who loved him take great comfort that our friend was immediately assigned a preferred position in heaven. God had long heard of the many good things that this selfless, caring, devout man had done.

[below this section of remembrances of Mr. Del Balzo  is an adaptation of his JDA biography.]

Joe was a New Yorker through and through. The New York Post was usually consumed with breakfast. His (not “the”) Giant team was his #1 sports focus; to find him on a weekend, consultation with the NFL schedule would reveal his location at game time (@ Met Life Stadium, in front of a television or with his son in Philly watching his Giants crush the Eagles, who BLASPHEMY, were adopted by his misguided son).

Though Gotham • born and bred, Mr. Del Balzo avoided the NYer  stereotype. He was kind, rarely if ever lost his temper, found time for anyone, did not insist that speed prevail over getting to the right answer and would not raise his voice even if highly frustrated. Calm and quiet was his effective management mode.

One of his greatest strengths came from his 2 engineering degrees. He knew the numbers and once sure that the figures aren’t lying, Joe’s voice conveyed such confidence that even the staunchest skeptic believed the speakers’ conclusions as though they were being announced at Mount Sinai.

That tone-of-voice characteristic made Joe an excellent advocate for safety. It easier to expound why a burdensome requirement must be added than to explain how “less may be more”; proof of this skill was proved in his explanations of SMS really created a higher level of safety by immediately addressing identified, specific risks rather than consuming years to codify a new rule in the CFRs.

Apology for adding a personal note. Many years ago, a young, cocky lawyer was added to Administrator Helms’ management team. Mr. Helms insisted on doing business in a different, more business-like manner. The kid Chief Counsel was  an apostle of this new rubric. Some of the career senior executives cast aspersions about me, trying to diminish the volume of the Helms gospel. Joe, one of the (if not THE) most respected civil servants, spoke up and made it clear that he agreed with me and the Administrator. That imprimatur from one so revered by his peers made my life a lot less contentious. Joe and I were friends before his intervention; thereafter our friendship was the cornerstone to my career. Miss you Joe.


Joseph Del Balzo

  • FAA Acting Administrator
  • Executive Director: Systems Operations, System Development
  • FAA Director Eastern Region
  • Director, FAA Technical Center
  • FAA Chief Technical Officer, Europe, Africa and Middle East. Brussels, Belgium
  • 36 year FAA career

Joseph M. Del Balzo was the President of JDA Aviation Technology Solutions for 28 years. Joe and his company have been a master at offering a wide range of airport and airspace planning, safety, security, training and technology application support to international civil aviation clients.

A signature of this team, something about which the founder insisted, was finding solutions. The meat of aviation safety, the FARs, primarily defines what is prohibited. It requires an unusual set of skills to design a solution which both meets the exacting safety standards and provides a practical business option. Joe’s team was able to do that on a regular basis.

As a career employee he was selected to  serve as FAA Acting Administrator( Jan 1992 – Sep 1993) and Deputy Administrator—the highest positions in the agency and chairs normally occupied by Senate confirmation, i.e., political. His assignment was to provide a steady and constant focus on the key issues and challenges facing FAA and the aviation industry- at the highest levels. He built a clear vision of the agency’s future with FAA’s corporate team and developed a strategy for long-term change that included the development of the first FAA Operational Concept for the Year 2010.

Administrator Hinson decided that the technology efforts need a technically knowledgeable LEADER. He named Joe to be  the  Executive Director of System Operations where he led an organization responsible for: defining requirements for new technology; installing, operating and maintaining all air traffic control systems and facilities; operating the nation’s air traffic control system, and developing and overseeing safety regulations for all aircraft, airline and airmen in the US system. He coordinated the participation of National Airspace System users, operators and producers, in the development of FAA’s Annual Strategic Plan.

Joe’s career started at the bottom of the FAA ladder as an entry level engineer. He moved quickly up the career trail. For two years, he was the Chief Technical Advisor for the FAA stationed in Brussels, Belgium, responsible for coordination of research and development efforts between the United States and Europe, Africa and the Middle East. This work established Joe as the  credible  spokesman on aviation matters at high-level government-to-government and ICAO

His first major appointment, testifying to his reputation for  technical issues was   as the Director of the FAA Technical Center, the research branch for  all aspects of the FAA- aircraft, airport, air traffic, security and other disciplines that would benefit from laboratory analysis. where he achieved national and international recognition for the Center in areas of airport and airspace systems analysis, aircraft fire safety, electronic systems testing and pilot judgment studies.

Administrator Helms recognized that Joe’s engineering strengths were equaled or surpassed by his ability to deal with people. The New Yorker returned to the greater metropolitan area from which he ran the Eastern Region as its Director.

He was a Fellow of the America Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; a former member of the Board of Directors and former Chairman of the Air Traffic Control Association; a former member of the Civil Tilt-Rotor Advisory Committee; a member of the editorial board of Air Traffic Control Quarterly, and former member of the Board of Directors of Weather Information Technologies, Inc.

Mr. Del Balzo, an instrument-rated pilot, held engineering degrees from Manhattan College and Drexel University, and an Honorary Doctor of Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He attended Princeton University on a one-year fellowship in Public Policy and International Affairs.

All of JDA is disconsolate in losing our friend, role model (in the true sense of the word) and inspirational leader.

•Author and NYC native Washington Irving started using the term in 1807 in his satirical periodical, Salmagundi. It’s believed that he was inspired by a folk tale called “The Wise Men of Gotham.” In it, residents of England’s Gotham village catch wind that King John will be traveling through their town. Knowing that the king’s visit would bring chaos and turn their quiet village into a circus, the citizens of Gotham decided to feign madness—believed to be contagious at the time—to encourage the king to find another path. They put their plan into action by performing crazy stunts, including trying to drown an eel in a pond and building a fence around a bush to prevent a cuckoo from escaping. The shenanigans worked in this story—King John bypassed Gotham in favor of a town with more sense.

By repeatedly using “Gotham” in a publication created to lampoon New York culture, Irving was poking a little fun at the city and its residents by comparing it to a village where people pretended to be crazy. New Yorkers embraced the moniker, either not aware that Irving was mocking them, or out of pride for being considered craftily crazy.


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18 Comments on "FAA’s greatest career employee has passed"

  1. Great job capturing a great man.
    My pal

  2. So sorry to learn of his passing. I didn’t know him well, but I dod work with him a bit after he left the FAA. He was well-respected, which was well-earned and deserved. He will be missed.

  3. Again, a lovely tribute to your friend, colleague and mentor, Sandy. With Joe, it was never about him, but the mission. Truly sorry for our loss.


  4. During my years in New York, Joe Del Balzo was my partner, wise advisor and friend. His contributions have been many, and all of us in aviation whom he touched will miss him.

  5. Thank you for your kind description of Joe’s accomplishments and contributions to the American public. Joe was a friend and mentor to me over many years, especially “how to succeed in New York City”.

  6. A great and deserving tribute to a one of a kind guy.
    Rest in peace my friend

  7. Joe will be missed.

  8. I truly enjoyed working for Joe in Eastern Region and later in JDA Aviation Technology Solutions. When Joe spoke, everyone listened. An Aviation “Hall of Famer”.

  9. Aviation has lost a staunch advocate and Brenda and I have truly lost a dear friend, great mentor and advisor. The years I had working for Joe when he was Executive Director and The Administrator were the best! This tribute to Joe was outstanding! May he rest in peace. Fair winds and blue skies, Joe.

  10. It should be remembered that Joe’s support of the ATCA at a time when it was pretty much on the ropes (I know because I was President of the ATCA at the time) saved the organization. One year he drove a truck from Atlantic City to Ft Worth so the Tech Center could have an exhibit at the ATCA Convention.Manhattan College has lost a distinguished alumni.

  11. A class act who added value in all his posts. Joe earned his keep on the planet.
    Chip Barclay

  12. A true leader and a mentor to many.
    Manny Weiss

  13. Joe led not by intimidation or arrogance. His intelligence,thoughtfulness and character made him a great leader. Twenty years ago we worked together on a sensitive matter. I learned a lot from the experience. I greatly admired him.

  14. Joe was a friend, a client, an expert consultant, and kind man of faith. When Secretary Skinner arrived, he warmly embraced Sam’s genuine outreach to the career professional Executive Directors. As a client, he respected our procurement advice, and needed little prep for tough congressional hearings. As an expert, he and his team did great things for our clients. As a friend, he made sure to have a mass said for my mom when she passed. A New Yorker through and through. Eternal rest grant unto Joe, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May God comfort his family, and my his memory be eternal. Amen.

  15. A wonderful tribute. He had that rare combination of technical expertise, thr ability to see the big picture and the personal touch that made him unique. I still remember the presentation he made in 1980 about the future of technology and how it engendered enthusiasm in the audience.

  16. Joe was a gentleman, willing to serve than be served. At the 1991 Paris Air Show the King of Belgium had a civil aviation policy question. Joe willingly joined the discussion at the US Pavilion and answered the King’s question. More I could not ask. St John Baptist de La Salle pray for us.

  17. I worked for Mr. Del Balzo and JDA, although indirectly, back in the mid-1990s. He was such a kind man, the epitome of decent. When I was leaving Washington D.C. and heading back to N.J. for graduate school, he and his team took me out for lunch and gave me a beautiful amethyst necklace, which I still treasure to this day. I have often wondered about Mr. Del Balzo and his awesome team at JDA over the years. My sincerest condolences to his family and friends, and may he Rest in Peace.

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