Client Spotlight: The Mayor of the FAA, Walter Abilla

Originally published in ATO Minute, the FAA’s air traffic organization’s newsletter on January 16, 2024

People are #1
When Walter Abilla returns to his FAA roots with visits to the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, he is welcomed like the mayor. That is likely because Abilla doesn’t just talk the talk; he genuinely believes people are number one and makes them his priority.

When he began with the FAA more than 25 years ago, Abilla knew that one day, when he took on a leadership role at the agency, it would be in service to his staff.

“It’s about the people; how they can be at their best to meet the mission,” said Abilla, now group manager of Decision Support Services (DSS). That is why people make up two of the three DSS tenets: develop meaningful relationships, support employee growth, and foster innovation.
One of the many ways Abilla upholds and exemplifies these values is to engage in one-on-one conversations with everyone on his team, no matter their role.

“He wants to meet people because he cares, not because there’s a problem. He wants to get to know them as people first, and know them as employees as well,” said Bob Tyo, Oceanic/Offshore Automation program manager and former program manager of Time-Based Flow Management (TBFM), a DSS portfolio program.

It was these one-on-ones that started Abilla’s journey toward becoming a mayor-like figure at FAA headquarters as well.

Culture Starts with Relationships
When Abilla joined DSS at headquarters in 2017, the AJM-2200 portfolio had three programs. Under his guidance, the portfolio has grown to encompass six programs and has diversified the overall workforce. More importantly, Abilla has changed the DSS culture.

“Walter helped instill the idea that it isn’t all about the program, and that — if you help people and folks see that — [they will] have a sense of loyalty, too. [DSS] is a really positive place to work, and that reflects on Walter, hands down,” Tyo said.

Crystal Toney, Terminal Automation Modernization and Replacement (TAMR) acting program manager worked with Abilla when she was in charge of Space Integration, another DSS program. She agrees with Tyo.

“He’s formed this team with this culture that I don’t think existed before he came to DSS,” Toney said. “The group has grown, the people have changed, and he’s done a good job explaining how the DSS culture operates. He would leave a legacy, even if he moves on from DSS.” That legacy includes Abilla’s willingness to dig into the hard problems and not shy away from them. He is there when his programs need him most.

“The magic of Walter is he has a way of assessing and meeting people where they are and working from there,” said Casey Nair, PM of Flow Management Data and Services (FMDS). “He also understands one solution isn’t for everybody. It’s not a cookie-cutter machine. He’s able to … match the tools with the different programs.”

Relationships Foster Innovation
Understanding the power of employees and their motivations and focusing that power on innovation are all part of Abilla’s unique approach.

“He continuously challenges his program managers to do things differently,” said Nair. “He’s very excited and supportive of things that are outside the norm.”

This approach has spurred DSS programs to new heights in innovative infrastructure and architecture in the National Airspace System (NAS). A few examples include FMDS working in the FAA’s Cloud National Test Bed and Space Integration, determining how to become more agile and deliver to markets more quickly.

“Inspiring others is our success in taking advantage of new technologies,” Abilla said. “Customers need quicker delivery. Are we really listening? The technology and how we can do things smarter are what I want DSS to be at the forefront of and embrace.” This willingness to adopt new techniques and technologies contributes to people’s desire to work for Abilla’s programs.

“Anyone who’s worked with Walter will tell you how passionate he is about his work,” said Program Management Organization Vice President Rebecca Guy. “He approaches every project with genuine enthusiasm and positivity. That kind of energy is infectious, and his teams respond in kind.” There will be more opportunities for people to catch Abilla’s infectious enthusiasm in the new year. Abilla is hopeful the upcoming greater in-office presence will inspire more collaboration — DSS’s 2024 theme.

His goals for collaborating? “Getting people in the mindset of embracing new ways of business, looking at our procedures,” said Abilla, “And [focusing on] how we can do things differently to understand or mitigate the financial and resource challenges we’re currently facing.”

Moving on Up
Of course, Abilla’s approach to innovation ties back to those one-on-one meetings. “We wanted everyone to have a voice because everyone has something to offer,” Abilla said. “When people were ready to move up, we wanted them to have the skills. We wanted innovation and to do things differently.”

And when his employees are ready to move up, Abilla will be the first in line to sing their praises. “He never says, ‘You’re great! You have to stay on my team forever.’ He wants to see how you can grow and help the agency grow,” said Toney. “Some managers are so focused on the programs they forget their employees have aspirations and goals, but [Walter] thinks about all that.”

Tyo couldn’t agree more. “He puts the FAA and the people above himself or his position. ‘NAS first, people always.’ Walter embodies that statement.”
As Abilla has proven, the FAA is all about relationships. He is able to solve complex problems because of the bridges he has built during his career. Now as group manager, he continues to create those bridges for others by valuing his people and going out of his way for them.

“I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today if people didn’t give me the opportunity,” he said. “The opportunities I was afforded … I want people to have those so they can shine. These are potentially the future leaders of the FAA, and the only way we can build them is by giving them opportunities…we want them to be the stars that they are.”


In the realm of leadership, few exemplify the essence of genuine devotion and transformative guidance quite like Walter Abilla. His journey at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over the past 25 years has been nothing short of a testament to what it means to lead with purpose, integrity, and an unwavering commitment to the betterment of one’s team. At the heart of Walter’s philosophy is a conviction that leadership is fundamentally about service — a dedication to ensuring that every member of his team is empowered to contribute their best towards the mission. As the group manager of Decision Support Services (DSS), Walter has seamlessly woven the vital threads of meaningful relationships, employee growth, and a culture of innovation into the fabric of DSS’s operational ethos.

His approach to leadership isn’t merely transactional; it’s deeply personal. Walter’s commitment to engaging in one-on-one conversations with each member of his team is a powerful demonstration of his belief in the inherent value of each individual. It’s not about oversight; it’s about insight — into the ambitions, capabilities, and the potential of his colleagues. Walter cares. Deeply. And it’s this genuine concern for people, not just as employees but as valued contributors with lives, aspirations, and challenges, that sets him apart as a leader.

At Evans, we’re not just witnesses to Walter’s exceptional leadership; we’re advocates, collaborators, and inspired partners in his quest to create a workplace culture where everyone feels seen, supported, and inspired to innovate. His adherence to the core value of leadership resonates profoundly with our mission, embodying the type of impact-driven leadership we champion. It’s leaders like Walter Abilla who remind us that at the end of the day, fostering environments where growth, ambition, and human connection thrive is not just a responsibility—it’s a privilege.