Adjunct Professor Brian O'Keeffe AO ( - )

Adjunct Professor Brian O'Keeffe Hon LLD (Monash), BE (Qld), FIE Aust, FAIN, can rightly be described as one of the giants of Departmental history, having played a major part in making Australia's reputation for excellence in aviation on the world stage.

Brian O'Keeffe graduated as Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical) from the University of Queensland in 1956 and joined the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) where he was engaged in the design and supervision of radio installations and special electronic investigations. From 1957 to 1959 he carried out Navigation Aids research at the University of Adelaide under sponsorship from DCA.

Left: Brian O'Keeffe in 1997 at the time of his retirement from Airservices Australia. (Photo: Brian O'Keeffe collection)

In 1959 Brian joined the Department's central office, Airways Engineering Branch, advancing to the position of Senior Assistant Secretary, Planning Research & Development in 1975. The period began with his design of a new ILS localiser antenna which became the standard for Australia for many years. In conjunction with the Departmentally sponsored Air Navigation Group at Sydney University, an ILS model range and a new glide path antenna were developed. He carried out some of the first measurements of the detailed structure of the ILS signal-in-space. He used the computing facilities of Monash University to investigate the systems being developed for the automatic landing of aircraft which were of great interest to the designers of aircraft systems.

During this period, Brian O'Keeffe was one of the co-developers of a high accuracy, optical/electronic tracking system for aircraft engaged on flight calibration, which was a vital part of the later Microwave Landing System (MLS) development. The results of all this work over many years were contributed to the ICAO All Weather Operations Panel. He was also the Australian member of the ICAO Study Group on the updating of the Manual of Testing of Navigation Aids. Thus began a long line of contributions to ICAO.

He took a leading role in the international development of the MLS, writing the first paper presented to ICAO in 1967 proposing that the ILS be replaced and was then involved actively in the development of what came to be known as MLS. He was responsible for the then Department of Transport's (the successor organisation to DCA) MLS program, which, together with other research and manufacturing bodies in Australia, produced and tested a complete MLS for presentation to ICAO. He promoted the benefit of international collaboration and eventually a combined multi-State proposal was put to ICAO using essentially the Australian signal format. Thus, the Time Reference Scanning Beam system was adopted by ICAO as the international standard in 1978.

Satellite ranging experiments - click here for larger
In the late 1960's Brian was involved in the early studies of the application of satellite systems for civil aviation and carried out ranging measurement experiments using the ATS-1 satellite and pseudo-random code techniques. He was the aviation representative on the Australian Government Task Force on the National Communications Satellite System and presented a cost effective design for a satellite system for civil aviation in Australia. With the Government acceptance of a national satellite system, this aviation system was implemented and has provided a high quality service for Australian civil aviation from the mid 1980s.

Brian O'Keeffe was appointed head of the restructured Airways Division in 1982 which carried out the planning, research and provision of communication, navigation, surveillance facilities as well as the provision of air traffic control, flight service, rescue and fire fighting services. In this position, he was able to initiate and pursue a plan for the complete modernisation of the airways system which would vastly increase the productivity of the system by the use of modern technology.

In 1984, he became the Australian member of the ICAO Special Committee on Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS). He took an active role in the FANS Committee and was elected Vice Chairman. In particular, he organised the preparation of material on "institutional arrangements" which can be described as how to put together a global system, based on satellites, with components provided by civil aviation authorities, international organisations, service providers and aircraft operators. In this period, the FANS Committee developed what was probably the first truly integrated system of communication, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management capable of international acceptance. With the completion of FANS Phase I in 1988, he was elected to lead the interim Committee and then elected Chairman of the FANS Phase II Committee in 1990. He then lead the Committee to have the system accepted at a world wide ICAO meeting in 1991 and to develop the detailed institutional arrangements and the global co-ordinated plan. The plan was completed in 1993.

Following the establishment of the Australian Civil Aviation Authority in 1988, he was appointed General Manager, Advanced Systems Development to allow him greater involvement in international matters and in particular, international technical developments.

He initiated the development of a general purpose aircraft position display system based on "off-the-shelf" computer equipment. In particular, this was used for Automatic Dependent Surveillance (ADS) developments and copies of the equipment were loaned to several countries in the Asia/Pacific Region in the spirit of international cooperation. At this time, he was involved in organising the Pacific Engineering Trials (PET) to demonstrate ADS, as a joint collaborative project between Australia, US and Japan. He persuaded other States in the Asia/Pacific Region to become involved and finally lead to the certification of the FANS 1 package for the Boeing 747-400 aircraft in 1995.

In 1991, Brian O'Keeffe was appointed General Manager, R & D and ICAO Affairs in the Civil Aviation Authority.

In 1992 he became the Australian member of the Asia Pacific Air Navigation Planning and Implementation Regional Group (APANPIRG) and was elected Chairman of its Communications, Navigation, Surveillance and Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) Sub group. Under his leadership, the Subgroup developed, in two years, a plan for the transition to CNS/ATM in the Region. With the completion of this plan, the Subgroup was re-formed in 1994 to co-ordinate the implementation of CNS/ATM. Again, he was elected Chairman and pursued a vigorous campaign to proceed with detailed implementation plans for nine geographical areas representing the major traffic flows in the Asia/Pacific. As a result, detailed plans were agreed and implementation has proceeded rapidly.

He has long recognised the importance of the internationalisation of civil aviation and has pursued this through ICAO and bilaterally. He has contributed to ICAO through numerous panels and divisional meetings. He was elected First Vice President of the ICAO General Assembly in 1992 and First Vice Chairman of the Asia/Pacific Regional Air Navigation Meeting in 1993. He has negotiated bilateral Memoranda of Co-operation on technical matters with a number of countries in the Asia/Pacific Region.

With the establishment of Airservices Australia in 1995, Brian was appointed General Manager International & ICAO and, in 1996, Special Technical Adviser to the CEO.

In 1996, Brian O'Keeffe was nominated by Australia as a technical expert to serve on the ICAO Panel of Legal and Technical Experts on the Establishment of a Legal Framework with regard to the Global Navigation Satellite System and was invited to make an introductory presentation to the first meeting of the Panel. Also in 1996, at the invitation of the President of the ICAO Council, he became a member of the ICAO CNS/ATM Implementation Advisory Group (ALLPIRG).

In 1997, he was invited to make a presentation on the "Implementation of the FANS CNS/ATM Systems in the Asia/Pacific Region" to the US Vice President's White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. He was a member of the US Government-Industry Free Flight Steering Committee until 1998.

Since 1992 he has organised Workshops and Seminars on CNS/ATM, GNSS and ADS-B at the Singapore Aviation Academy for middle level managers responsible for the planning, implementation, operation, and management of CNS/ATM from airlines, civil aviation and airport authorities, government transport and military agencies.

Over many years, he has been invited to speak on CNS/ATM by technical bodies world-wide. In recent times, the US Institute of Navigation invited him to be the Technical Chairman of the Aviation sessions at their International Technical Meeting of the Satellite Division in 2003.

He has been a consultant to various Government and Industry bodies, such as Honeywell (USA), Airports Fiji Ltd and the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). In 2001 he completed an analysis of the performance of currently used and proposed navigation systems involving GPS for Australian airspace for CASA. Following on from this, he is currently a consultant on Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) to the Australian Government/Industry Strategic Air Traffic Management Group, examining the performance of the new generation of GPS receivers for aviation.

Brian O'Keeffe left Airservices Australia in 1997 and is presently (c.2015) the Managing Director of FANS PLANS P/L where he provides high level advice on the planning and implementation of the new CNS/ATM System as developed by the Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS) Committee of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). He is also Adjunct Professor in Engineering at the University of Canberra. He continues to organise Seminars on CNS/ATM at the Singapore Aviation Academy and is a member of the Singapore Minister for Transport's International Advisory Council. With nearly 50 years experience in the planning, research and development of electronic systems for civil aviation, Brian still consults for government and industry organisations, both nationally and internationally.

Awards for his service to civil aviation have been :-

1990 Certificate of Commendation from the US Federal Aviation Administration in recognition of "numerous leadership contributions enhancing the safety and efficiency of civil aviation on a global basis and for fostering 21st century civil aviation technologies".

1992 Appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia "for service to civil aviation, particularly international civil aviation".

1992 Special Medallion of the Air Traffic Control Association of USA "for outstanding achievement and contributions which advanced the science of air traffic control and enhanced the professions of the ATC system".

1993 Elected Fellow of the Institution of Engineers, Australia in recognition of "high achievements and the level of responsibility which you have assumed over an extended period for important engineering decisions, activities and programs".

1994 Honorary Membership of the Royal Institute of Navigation of UK "for services as Chairman of the ICAO FANS Committee. The work of ICAO FANS over this period has now resulted in actions being taken to implement the most significant advance ever made in world wide civil aviation. Mr O'Keeffe's dedication and skill have been major factors in the success of this work".

1995 Aviation Week's Aerospace Laureate in Electronics "for substantial contributions in the global field of aerospace in 1994" and in 1997 was inducted into their Hall of Fame at the Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

1995 Appointed as Adjunct Professor in Communications Engineering at the University of Canberra.

1996 Special Commendation from the Air Traffic Control Association of USA "In recognition and gratitude of the adult life contributions and dedicated services of Brian O'Keeffe which enhanced the National and International Air Traffic Control Systems and in further recognition of his outstanding support of ATCA".

1997 Award from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore "In appreciation for outstanding contribution to the Singapore Aviation Academy".

1997 The US Federal Aviation Administration's Award for Distinguished Service "in advancing international aviation in the public interest and achieving outstanding results in enhancing the global aviation system".

1997 The Clifford Burton Medallion from the US Air Traffic Control Association.

1997 Elected Fellow of the Institute of Navigation, Australia.

1998 Conferred with the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa by Monash University at the graduation ceremony in the Faculty of Engineering

1998 The US Institute of Navigation's Capt. PVH Weems Award "recognising continuing contributions to the art and science of navigation".

2002 Elected to the Canberra Engineering Hall of Fame of the Institution of Engineers, Australia

The Edward Warner Award - click here for more

2004 Received the highest award of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the Edward Warner Award, "in recognition of your eminent contribution to the development of international civil aviation, in particular your leading role in the field of air navigation systems."

< Click on the image at left to see more about Brian O'Keefe's Edward Warner Award.


2007 Received Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine's L. Welch Pogue award for his work on FANS (L. Welch Pogue joined the US Civil Aeronautics Board in 1938 was appointed Chairman in 1942. In 1944, along with Edward Warner, he was a member of the US delegation at the international conference in Chicago which set up ICAO).

In 2015 the Civil Aviation Historical Society was honoured to appoint Brian O'Keeffe as its new Patron.


(Photos: Brian O'Keeffe collection)

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