Jonathan Howe, Esq. an archetypical Jeffersonian Public Servant and Man of Aviation

Jonathan Howe
Share this article: FacebooktwitterlinkedinFacebooktwitterlinkedin

ACI World mourns the passing of former Director General Jonathan Howe

Johnathan Howe Obituary – Gray, GA | Atlanta Journal

On March 3rd, 2020, Jonathan Howe passed away in his home surrounded by his family in Gray, Georgia

Jonathan was a friend of mine; so, apologies for writing more than usual of this post in the first person singular. We worked together at the FAA, while Jonathan was at NBAA, when he was a partner at Zuckert, Scoutt, Rasenberger, LLP, and when he and Bitsy moved to Geneva to be the Director General at ACI World.

He was an impressive person, not just in his erudition but his affection for knowledge in many spheres. Perhaps most notably, Jonathan was a dedicated civil servant ; there was an intense sense of commitment in his work. He recognized the importance to aviation safety and never took a short cut.

He would have been the poster person for the Jeffersonian ideal of a public servant. Thomas Jefferson believed that government should be run by a trained elite, that young people who possessed outstanding talent should be selected from all classes, and that the government should be populated by candidates of  the highest levels of education possible to enable them to serve in positions of responsibility. He said:

“Instead of an aristocracy of wealth, of more harm and danger than benefit to society, to make an opening for the aristocracy of virtue and talent, which nature has wisely provided for the direction of the interests of society and scattered with equal hand through all its conditions, was deemed essential to a well-ordered republic.” –Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821.

Jonathan, though born in Connecticut, reflected this Virginian President’s description of an OPM position criteria.

St.George and Yale seals

He started his education at the St. George’s School in Rhode Island and moved 100 miles west to Yale University. There, while completing his undergraduate and law degrees, Jon took some time to join the oldest college aviation club, cleverly named Yale Aviation, probably in an aircraft like the one below. Having learned to fly, Aeronautics became Mr. Howe’s vocation and avocation, more aptly passion.

Yale Aviation Club and Cherokee airplane


His career wings took him to the FAA where he started out as a first level attorney in 1963. His dual law degree and private pilot license propelled him up the Office of Chief Counsel ladder. He reached the senior career legal job, Deputy Chief Counsel in 1978. His aviation abilities took him to the Northwest Mountain region, an office with significant jurisdiction, where he was deputy Regional Administrator. Soon thereafter, he was appointed to head the Southern Region in Atlanta, GA. As a very large geographic district, Jonathan navigated an FAA aircraft to keep in touch with his widely dispersed employees. The Region included relations with Latin and South America; so, his flying took him over international waters.

That assignment included dealing with the PATCO strike and peculiarly enough placed him in the scope of Rep. Gingrich. The influential, conservative Republican showed his “constituent services” abilities by haranguing the Regional Administrator about some striker at the Atlanta Tower and/or the Enroute Center. Curiously, the ultimate conservative argued for the reinstatement of some PATCO member. The FAA Administrator involved Jonathan and his peers in this labor dispute.

In 1992, the National Business Aircraft [now Aviation] Association brought Jon into follow soon after the legendary John Winant. His knowledge of the technical aspects of this type of flying, a plus for an organization which prides itself on supporting its members about their airplanes. The new association president had high levels of contact in the Administration and knew the Hill well—both skills for which Mr. Winant was known. His international reach was a new element for NBAA which had little impact there. For example, DOT Secretary Skinner was concerned about some odd rumblings from Europe and he commissioned Jonathan as an ambassador without portfolio. The G-2 which he brought back was valuable and gave the association even greater stature within the aviation policy stakeholder community.

In a slightly different, but somehow not unexpected realm, Mr. Howe’s knowledge of the arrondissements of Paris proved useful at the Paris Air Show. In fact, his French fluency helped with a tricky issue at this biannual aviation convocation.

ACI logo


This global reach was even more useful for the Airports Council World. His FAA work gave him access to many civil aviation authorities and facilitated the organization’s regulatory presence around the globe. He was an articulate, knowledgeable spokesperson for this organization. He traveled to the many national organizations which participate in this Council. He worked five years with ACI and it noted his death with sadness.

From Geneva to Gray, GA was the next step in Bitsy’s and Jonathan’s journey. The gracious, patient and understanding Mrs. Howe moved back to her Macon, GA roots. There the New England accent of her husband was out of place and her wonderful Southern rhythm sounded just right. They were a perfectly matched pair- husband full of verve, wife endowed with grace.

One of Jonathan’s greatest hobbies was ham radios. If one ever had difficulty finding the Howe’s residence, a look to the sky would locate the antenna farm that was always part of Jon’s habitat. He also enjoyed computers, gadgets, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.

A dear friend and former law partner of Jonathan, Rachel Trinder has added some poignant comments:

Jonathan Howe in backyard

Jonathan Howe in backyard near his antenna farm

I had the great good fortune of being one of Jonathan’s law firm partners in the 1990s.  it was an experience I will always treasure.  Joining the firm in the years before his service as Director-General of ACI International in Geneva, Jonathan brought to the firm a vast range of aviation knowledge  and experience, having previously served as President and CEO of NBAA, and in various senior roles within the FAA, including as Deputy General Counsel and Director of the Southern Region.  The breadth and depth of his expertise was stunning and having served in various non-lawyer positions he also brought a fresh perspective to the practice of aviation law.  It was a tremendous privilege to have the opportunity to work with, and learn, from him.  Jonathan was a force of nature.  He had an energy level that a ten year old would envy, and an extraordinarily positive outlook that carried everyone through any challenge.  He was so much fun.  He seemed to virtually live on airplanes – he truly viewed the world as his oyster and would think nothing of flying around the globe on almost no notice, while also working tremendously hard on legal matters.  I have no idea how he managed it, but it was something to be greatly admired.  Anchoring all his travel and hard work was his solid family life supported by his devoted wife, Elizabeth (Bitsy), and his love of ham radio, through which he had a worldwide circle of friends.  Jonathan made so many contributions to the aviation industry, to airport interests, and to his friends, and he will be sorely missed.

Indeed, Jonathan will be missed, and it is not likely that his knowledge, skills, commitment and passion for aviation will be soon matched.  

Yale, FAA, NBAA, ACI and ZS&R


Share this article: FacebooktwitterlinkedinFacebooktwitterlinkedin

4 Comments on "Jonathan Howe, Esq. an archetypical Jeffersonian Public Servant and Man of Aviation"

  1. Very sorry to hear of Jon’s passing. It has been a long, long time since I had seen him. I agree with you 100%: “The breadth and depth of his expertise were stunning.” Thank you for the write-up.

  2. Ed, thanks. He was a special guy and will be missed.

  3. Sorry to hear this news about a very classy guy. Jonathan earned his keep on the planet.
    Chip Barclay

  4. Very sorry to hear about Jonathan’s passing. Aside from being a brilliant attorney and manager, he was a really, really nice guy. Although it had been some time, I always enjoyed working with him.
    Sandy, your tribute to Jonathan was spot on.

Leave a comment