Air Force Colonel (GS)

Director of the Department High Studies of Defence


Air Force Colonel (GS) Jo Heylens was born on 12 September 1970 in Zottegem. After his secondary education at the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw College in Deinsbeke and a year at the “Interforces” division of the Belgian Royal Cadet School in Lier, he joins the 129th All-Weapons Class of the Royal Military Academy. At the end of 1993, Air Force Second Lieutenant Heylens obtains his licentiate in military and aeronautical science. After his academic education, he serves as commander of the defence and support squadron of the 23rd Logistic Wing in Zellik.

At the end of 1995, he is assigned to the Air Traffic Control Center (ATCC) in Semmerzake (Gavere), where he holds the position of commander of the Flight Active Defence, then of the Flight Support.

In 1999, he pursues his career at the Division Personnel of the General Staff in Evere, where he is first responsible for the organisational culture and later on for disseminating information regarding personnel-related matters.

In 2002, he joins the Division Policy Preparation of the Directorate-General Human Resource (DGHR) in Neder Over Heembeek to take on the position of chief of the subsection Quality of Life. As from 2003, he is in charge of the Defence union policy and works as a secretary to the Negotiation and Consultative Committees for military and civilian Defence staff. In the meantime, he attends several post academic classes such as “Expert Class in Human Resources Management”, at the Antwerp Management School, and “Personeelsmanagement bij de overheid” (Government Employee Management) at the KU Leuven.

After successfully completing the Candidate Senior Officer Course at the Royal Military Academy, he finds his way back to DGHR in mid-2006 to occupy the position of manager of the air force non-flying officers.

In the summer of 2007, he starts working as an attaché at the administrative and technical secretariat of the cabinet of the Minister of Defence (Minister Flahaut), where he is tasked with managing the official missions, the protocol, honorary distinctions and establishing contacts with parastatal organisations. As of 21 December 2007, he holds the same position at the cabinet of Minister De Crem.

In December 2008, he is appointed military assistant of the Minister of Defence (MoD) and head of the communication and protocol department of the MoD cabinet, enabling him to gain invaluable experience in the international, diplomatic and political world thanks to dozens of missions and visits both at home and abroad (90 countries).

In October 2014, Lieutenant Colonel Heylens joins COMOPSAIR as commander of the Division Image and Public Relations.

From August 2015 until July 2016, he takes the General Staff Course at the Defence College in Brussels, where he obtains his master’s degree in political and military science. Holder of a general staff degree, he returns to COMOPSAIR-IPR until the end of February 2019.

On 7 March 2019, he is appointed commanding officer of the ATCC in Semmerzake Gavere. In the context of the efficient use of the air traffic control services and the synergy with skeyes, he moves on 2 December 2019 with his unit to the skeyes premises in Steenokkerzeel.

In January 2020, he is in charge of the civil-military synergy programme between skeyes and Defence. In addition, he has laboured to reallocate the military barracks of Semmerzake-Gavere, in order to keep a military presence in East Flanders. He also chairs the Organising Committee of the Air Force Gala Ball.

On 10 October 2022, Colonel Heylens is appointed director of the Department High Studies of Defence at the Royal Higher Institute for Defence.

Jo Heylens has two daughters, Laura (26) and Celine (23), and lives with his wife Ann De Smet in Zottegem (Sint Goriks Oudenhove).