FAA’s longest serving, 1st career employee and 1st Woman Chief Operating Officer RETIRES

Terri Bristol ATO-1
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The Air Traffic Organization is 20 years old and the 5th COO is retiring

1st woman, 1st internal candidate 

Excelled in position for Seven Years-the longest term

The Air Traffic Organization was authorized In April 2000, President Clinton signed into law the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century. Oddly enough, the purpose of the change was to make the operation of the ATC in a more business-like fashion-the oddity derived from the fact that originally this system was originally organized by an airline consortium  in 1936.

In 1958, the tragic TWA crash over the Grand Canyon precipitated statutory and executive placing all ATC in a new Federal Aviation Administration. The air traffic organization evolved through several in changes in structures and reporting relationships. Numerous outside studies made recommendations until enactment of the Ford Bill.

The discussions over what functions should remain in the FAA “proper” (e.g., system acquisitions) and who should occupy the new “officer” jobs (e.g. “Vice President, Technical Operations”).

The biggest initial selection was the person to be the ATO’s Air Traffic Organization. The first is a series of relatively quick successions began:

Administrator Huerta selected Terri Bristol  as ATO COO on March 21. 2014.. The AIN report of her selection is incredibly, but subtly insightful:NATCA contract signing AOA-1 ATO-1

In 21 years with the FAA, Bristol has held a number of executive positions, including vice president for technical operation services, vice president of the ATO service center, director of terminal mission support, director for terminal air traffic operations in the western service area and director of terminal program operations.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) welcomed the appointment. “The collaborative relationship developed and strengthened by NATCA and the FAA over the past four years has become one of the strongest and most successful examples of labor-management partnerships,” the controllers union said. “Bristol’s work with NATCA as ATO deputy COO has contributed largely to the success of this collaborative relationship as well as to the progress of NextGen modernization efforts.”







The Professional Aviation Safety Specialists AFL-CIO (PASS), which represents FAA system specialists, safety inspectors and other employees, issued a similar congratulatory statement. “Pass recognizes the importance of appointing Teri Bristol as the next COO of the Air Traffic Organization. We have worked with Ms. Bristol for years and appreciate her professionalism, expertise and focus on the employees. When she served as Technical Operations vice president, Ms. Bristol was pivotal in improving the relationship between labor and management,” said Pass national president Mike Perrone.

In her seven years Ms. Bristol was led ATO to many, many significant achievements; a few demonstrate the breadth and depth of her leadership:

  • When the ZAU ARTCC on October 13, 2014, controlling some of the nation’s most congested airspace, suffered a debilitating fire, ATO-1 led a recover effort that maintained capacity as the equipment was restored. Under her direction, the “FAA transferred control of traffic at 18,000 feet and above to en route centers in Minneapolis, Kansas City, Cleveland and Indianapolis. Those centers sent transcontinental flights at cruising altitude around Chicago airspace entirely. The centers funneled lower level traffic to 19 terminal radar approach control facilities, which increased their control responsibility from about 10,000 feet to 17,000 feet… Bristol said the FAA is “holding multiple telecons” with air carriers to alleviate disruptions. “I would say that our approach has been very collaborative working with the carriers,” she said. “We put out our plans, we actually talk about it with them and we ask them for feedback. We adjusted over the weekend, in fact. We were looking at maybe doing a ground-delay program and they actually pushed back, and they bought into using the flow program.”

ZAU and airspace

  • Bristol was responsible “for ensuring safe, efficient and secure air traffic services for approximately 50,000 aircraft operating over nearly 30 million square miles every day.”…As a champion for continued development of the nation’s Next Generation (“NextGen”) Aviation System, Bristol has led the FAA’s NextGen Executive Board and NextGen Advisory Committee. Bristol has also been an advocate and role model for women, having been the first woman to hold her current leadership position, and the first woman to hold her previous three positions. She has been instrumental in FAA efforts to recruit and retain women and minorities to key positions in air traffic control, and across the agency.” [NBAA comment]  
  • Bristol served as Chair of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) Executive Committee from June 2017 to June 2019. CANSO works to harmonize air traffic policies and procedures and develop best practices for the safe and efficient delivery of air navigation services. Bristol is Chair, Latin America and Caribbean CANSO CEO Committee (LAC3).
  • Bristol represents the ATO on the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) and is a member of the NextGen Executive Board and the NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC), and an executive leader of the NAC’s NextGen Integration Working Group.
  • The National Air Traffic Controllers Association further recognized Bristol’s efforts to enhance collaboration between the FAA and the organization, calling her “a strong, inspiring leader for whom we have great respect.” NATCA quoted her 2016 Labor Day message “the strong and continuous collaboration” the FAA enjoys with its labor partners that, “is helping us to accomplish our mission to ensure the safest, most efficient airspace system in the world.”
  • Bristol has led the ATO during a time when the FAAstepped up deployment of new systems under the multiyear, $36 billion NextGen ATC modernization program and integrated drones and commercial space vehicles into the national airspace system.
  • Her tenure has spanned the 35-day partial U.S. government shutdown that started on Dec. 22, 2018, closing the FAA’s controller academy in Oklahoma City; congressional debate over spinning off the ATO as an independent entity; and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In March 2020, the FAAannounced that multiple technicians had tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 at the Chicago Midway International Airport tower, the first such facility affected. As infections spread across the ATC system, the agency activated contingency plans to shift air traffic services to adjacent facilities while affected towers, terminal radar approach-control and en route centers were deep cleaned. Some facilities were reduced to “ATC Zero” status, for a time providing no service within their assigned airspace. Controllers started wearing face masks and segregated into work crews that stayed together during the duty week to prevent randomly spreading the virus. [the above three points.]
  • Some of the major NAS/NextGen documents issued under her ATO leadership-

major studies


Terri Bristol’s primary contribution was her connecting with the ATC rank and file. As an insider, she knew her territory and they knew her. The result was, perhaps, the best seven years of management-ATO work force relationship. BEST OF LUCK TO HER IN HER NEXT CAREER CHOICE.



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1 Comment on "FAA’s longest serving, 1st career employee and 1st Woman Chief Operating Officer RETIRES"

  1. There’s never a dull moment in aviation for the FAA’s Teri Bristol and
    ’s Tan Siew Huay as they work to keep our global skies safe. These trailblazers share tips to inspire other women to grow their skills and break glass ceilings. http://bit.ly/2TzFzQu #FAAGlobal
    U.S.-Singapore: Inspiring Women in Aviation

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