James Cunneen

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James Cunneen
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Latest company Aerodata Holdings Limited

SEG is honoring James Patrick Cunneen with the Enterprise Award in recognition of his courage, ingenuity, and achievement while risking his own resources and future in the founding of Aerodata Holdings Limited, an airborne geophysical company that grew into a major world player within the minerals and petroleum energy industry. Pat is consistently described by many as a visionary and entrepreneur who saw the role of airborne geophysics extending beyond its conventional role and that R&D was key to success. Pat led and inspired many talented and innovative individuals who contributed to Aerodata and World Geoscience Corporation through three distinct phases of airborne geophysics activity. When Aerodata began in 1977, the primary use of airborne geophysics was in mineral exploration. A second phase in the late 1980s saw Aerodata and its subsidiary World Geoscience examining airborne methods in environmental applications for reversing the environmental degradation due to dryland salinity in Western Australia. A third phase was the pioneering of high-resolution magnetics for oil and gas exploration. Many of the advances in high-resolution imaging and visualization of aeromagnetic data can be traced directly to the new methods of processing and interpretation of magnetic and electromagnetic data acquired by Aerodata and World Geoscience.

Biography Citation for the Cecil Green Enterprise Award

Contributed by Donald Pridmore

Pat, born in 1943, spent much of his youth in and around Kalgoorlie, the center of the gold mining industry in Western Australia. His early schooling was at Mt. Monger, 30 km east of Kalgoorlie, where his family owned/operated a small gold mine.

In later years this area was overflown by Aerodata aircraft collecting highresolution magnetic and radiometric data in what was probably the first such multiclient or nonexclusive survey in Australia and amongst the most profitable of the many subsequent projects the company flew. His career began at age 20 when he joined Western Mining’s field crews as a geophysical technician on Australia’s first induced polarization surveys. He spent some five years in ground geophysics with Western Mining, McPhar, and other companies before becoming interested in airborne surveying. That led to 10 years with AMEG and Scintrex.

In 1977 Pat and several others founded Aerodata in Perth to offer airborne geophysical services principally for mineral exploration. The company expanded rapidly due to innovative technology—particularly image processing, GPS navigation, and in-field processing—and by introducing nonexclusive high-resolution airborne surveys. Aerodata Holdings listed on the Australian stock exchange in 1985 and raised A$1.5 million, which gave it the means to expand through acquisition of competitors and synergistic businesses. World Geoscience Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary, was formed in 1987 to broaden the range of services offered and facilitate entry into international markets. World Geoscience purchased several airborne survey companies, including Questor Surveys in Toronto, and interests in ground geophysical/instrumentation companies in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, and established offices in Perth, Sydney, Jakarta, Houston, Toronto, and London. Operational technologies offered by Aerodata included airborne magnetics, conventional electromagnetics and a variant for airborne salinity mapping, radiometrics again with an especially developed variant for nuclear disaster monitoring, airborne laser fluoro sensing for oil seep detection and, airborne remote sensing in the visible and infrared bands. Within 10 years, the company was arguably the world’s largest airborne geophysical contractor and its 21 aircraft, operating over all continents, were collecting approximately 2 million km of data annually. In later years less than one fifth of its revenue was sourced in Australia. Community, peer group, and government recognition included Australian Exporter of the year (in the Services Section) in 1993, and numerous government R&D grants including A$9 million for the development of the Cerberus system, a multisensor instrument package to produce electromagnetic, magnetic, radiometric, and reflected light spectra from a single platform. World Geoscience was also a key participant in establishing a Cooperative Research Centre to develop airborne electromagnetic methods for salinity mapping and mineral exploration and which resulted in development of the Tempest electromagnetic system.

Pat was Chief Executive Officer of Aerodata from 1977 to 1997. His well-developed commercial acumen, inspirational leadership, and passionate commitment to research and development are reasons Aerodata defied the odds to become a world leader in airborne technology although based in relatively isolated Perth. Pat’s wife Anne and children Rachel, Jane, Michael, and David provided tremendous support during this period. Cunneen is also leaving his mark in other theaters. For the past decade he has been active in organizations trying to raise the profile of and find solutions to the dryland salinity problem afflicting much productive agricultural land in Australia.

His deep, authoritative, and arguably musical voice has, often uninvited, graced many venues around the world...Irish ballads and classical poetry being amongst his favorites. Many have listened in awe and admiration at Pat’s spontaneous and passionate recital of major works of poetry. Ladies and gentlemen....to Pat Cunneen.

Ladies and gentlemen....to Pat Cunneen