Qioptiq logo Raytheon

Sir Brian Burridge Appointed CEO of Royal Aeronautical Society By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.




Following the announcement earlier this year that Simon Luxmoore was to retire as Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Aeronautical Society after nine years in post I was delighted to learn yesterday that Sir Brian Burridge is to take up the position of CEO at the Society from the beginning of next month.

Well known and respected across aerospace, defence and business communities and a long time staunch supporter of the Society Sir Brian was, until 2016, Vice President Strategic Marketing at Finmeccanica UK (now Leonardo). Since then he has engaged in private consultancy and support work including as chair of Defence Growth Partnership innovation hub and some other important groups. His military career in the Royal Air Force had initially been spent as a Nimrod Maritime aircraft pilot before going on to hold front-line command posts at every level in the Service. Sir Brian spent a number of years in MOD in policy posts, commanded the UK Joint contingent of some 43,000 personnel in the 2003 Iraq War before retiring from the Royal Air Force as Commander-in-Chief Strike Command in January 2006.

As President of the Air League, Sir Brian is a long time Vice President Defence on the Council of the aerospace, defence and security sectors trade association, ADS. With a first degree in physics, an MBA from the Open University and from where he also holds an honorary doctorate, Sir Brian was recently awarded an honorary doctorate by Exeter University following his long association with the Business School. A research fellow in political science at King’s London Sir Brian is also a visiting professor at the School of Politics and International Relations University of Reading.

As a Fellow of the Society and former Trustee myself, I can think of no-one more ideally suited to take over this very important role from Simon Luxmoore. A change in CEO comes at a particularly interesting time for the Society ahead of the UK preparing to leave the EU and with so much uncertainty surrounding the politics of change the Society will no doubt find itself challenged as we all move into a different and unknown arena. While it is not the job of the Society to engage in politics but given the potential impact of change on all aspects of defence and commercial aviation the Society can be expected to be called upon to provide policy views and leadership.

Highly respected in the defence and aviation communities, Sir Brian will bring to the Society a combination of strong leadership together with a wealth of personal knowledge, experience and skill set. He will inherit a strong and fit for purpose organisation and for that, huge credit must go to Simon Luxmoore for the work that he has done and the excellent team that he has established in 4 Hamilton Place.

Financially, operationally and also in respect of membership levels, the Royal Aeronautical Society is today a fit for purpose organisation. But it cannot stand still and while change within a collegiate based organisation is never easy I believe that the Society will need to be more vocal and ambitious in the years ahead.

Formed in 1866 the Royal Aeronautical Society currently has in excess of 24,300 members and 295 Corporate Partners. Holding over 400 events annually including named lectures and designed to support professional development of members, the Society is fortunate to have a strong younger membership and one that is also diverse. With much emphasis placed on sharing industry knowledge and supporting the creation and maintenance of skills, membership of the Society extends all over the world with branches not only in important UK locations but also in Continental Europe, the USA, Australia and elsewhere internationally.

With the principle historic objective having been the general advancement of aeronautical art, science and engineering, particularly through promoting the species of knowledge that distinguishes the profession of aeronautics, I suspect that being what we term a ‘Learned Society’ the raison d’etre may be defined as being there to support and maintain the highest professional standards in aerospace disciplines; providing a unique source of specialist information to those within the aeronautical industry; to perform the role of being a local, national or sometimes international forum for the exchange of ideas and importantly, to exert influence on aerospace policy makers and other public, private or industrial parties that have a vested interest in all matters related to aeronautics, aerospace and aviation whether this be related to commercial and business aviation or defence.

In the choice of Sir Brian Burridge as its next CEO I believe that the Society will combine academic strength with intense knowledge of both aerospace and defence matters together with senior management skills. Sir Brian will not want for support and he will have around him a wealth of support in respect of Society staff including Finance Director, Tony Homes, Head of External Affairs, Simon Whalley, the Marketing & Communications Director Emma Bossom, Events Manager, Gail Ward and others.

No ‘Learned society’ can stand still and while Sir Brian can expect to have huge support from an excellent Board of Trustees, chaired by Martin Broadhurst, a vibrant Council together with the various Specialist Groups that provide the professional context of Society work and that perform the task of being the crucial interface with the outside world. Nevertheless, in an age where all organisations need to respond to policy requests with ever greater speed and dexterity in order to provide informed comment, I suspect that the Royal Aeronautical Society will need to further adjust to the speed of change taking place in the world of communications.

Social media apart, formal Royal Aeronautical Society publications including the monthly magazine ‘Aerospace’ which is edited by Tim Robinson together with the senior academic monthly ‘Aeronautical Journal’ are highly regarded sources of information and informed comment by members. I would also highlight The Royal Aeronautical Society Library based at Farnborough, Hampshire plays a significant role in the historical context of Society work.

Of the outgoing CEO Simon Luxmoore, a brilliant job very well done. You came to the Society nine years ago from Messier Dowty when much needed to be done and all that I can say is that their loss has been our wonderful gain. Your popularity and strength of purpose has won you a great many friends and your abilities which you have proven again and again through your nine years at the Society will always be deserving of much praise. That you have bravely commuted from North Norfolk to London and back almost every working day is to my mind worthy of a Society medal itself. Thank you for what you have done and what you have achieved in making the Society the strong and fit for purpose organisation that it is today.

Revenue is an important responsibility of the CEO and Sir Brian inherits a Society that is financially strong. It is pleasing too that the number of room hire events at the Society’s superb headquarters at 4 Hamilton Place has risen exponentially during the tenure of the outgoing CEO.

Below are published comments made by Sir Brian Burridge following the announcement of his appointment as CEO yesterday:

“The future in aerospace and aviation will be confronted by both political challenge and technological opportunity, aspects with which our founders were very familiar more than a century and a half ago. I am excited and honoured by the prospect of taking this world-class learned society into this new era in the knowledge that we can build on some very firm foundations.”

Outlining his future vision for the Royal Aeronautical Society, Sir Brian said:

“Here at the Society, every year we pay tribute through a named lecture to the legacy of the Wright brothers who, in November 1908, were the recipients of the Society’s first Gold Medal.  To bring that legacy to life, we pass around the assembled company, the watch that was used to time many of their European flights.  That watch had an accuracy of three seconds per month: by the mid-2020s, aircraft systems will have timing accuracy of one second in 1010 years.  This profound change is but one example of the impact of quantum science which will revolutionise air navigation.  That same stream of science will also transform secure communications, open new sensing opportunities for inertial navigation, bring enhanced capabilities for combat aircraft and will move simulation into a new era of fidelity.  These are just some examples of where the fourth industrial revolution is taking us. 

But, elsewhere, technology is also opening the prospect of the first 50-seater, all electric – not hybrid – aircraft providing a commuter service from London to Paris by 2030: EasyJet is already investing in this prospect.  Equally, artificial intelligence and machine learning will bring autonomy onto the factory floor and into the cockpit of military aircraft and the flight decks of everyday airliners.  In addition, wave-riding Hypersonics is just around the corner.  Against this prospect, Governments, regulators and consumers will have many questions and, probably, significant concerns when they recognise, for example, that there will not be a human on the flight-deck of that electric aircraft flying them to Paris.  So, what is the Society’s role in the fourth industrial revolution?

In my view this revolution is our opportunity to push-out the boundaries of what we do.  We need to expand the ‘body of knowledge’ into these new areas and take a leadership position in making the implications accessible to a wider community.  We need to be in a position to answer the hard questions on the basis of authoritative analysis, clear communication and demonstrable balance so that we are seen as the first port of call for informed comment.  Our global relevance will rest our ability to grasp this nettle.

Fortunately, the Society is in pretty good shape to address these challenges.  Simon Luxmoore has been highly effective in transforming the Society during his near decade at the helm.  But this will be a team effort: the headquarters will need to make it as easy as possible for our many volunteers to optimise their inputs and gain personal satisfaction from their various contributions.  Together, we can then work effectively to re-ignite the passion, provide the inspiration and restore the vitality inherent in aviation and aerospace.  In this respect, all of us have a duty to stimulate the interest of the coming generations in our sectors: we need greater diversity and younger minds if we are to capitalise on the opportunities presented by the fourth industrial revolution.  Overall, we need to be in the driving seat rather than just being interested observers.


CHW (London – 5th September 2018)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



Back to article list