Penny Stephens, CEO of Inflite The Jet Centre and vocal proponent of business aviation, was heralded yesterday by the British Business Aviation Association (BBGA) as the recipient of its prestigious Michael Wheatley Award for Outstanding Services to the general aviation industry. The award was presented by BBGA Chairman Marwan Khalek and Marc Bailey, CEO of BBGA, during the Association’s annual conference at Luton Hoo, attended by over 140 industry delegates and guests.
“This award is in recognition of the remarkable contribution Penny has given and continues to make to our industry. She has successfully helped evolve a family-run, independent business into a thriving, international focused concern in MRO and executive aviation handling for over three decades, without losing any of those family-held values. Her selection for this accolade was unanimous,” said Marc Bailey, BBGA CEO.
Penny’s interest in aviation began aged 17, when she learned to fly at the Southend Flying School. Her first aviation job was with Thurston Aviation in Stapleford, working alongside the legendary Eric Thurston. Serving initially as a secretary, she swiftly moved into administration, then took on a dual operational role in ATC and as a pilot assistant. This is where, aged 20, she met her future husband, Ray Stephens, whose Piper Chieftain was based there.
After a career break to have a family, Penny joined Ray at his fledgling aviation company, Inflite in 1992. She quickly took on all aspects of the MRO business and was instrumental in signing up legacy airlines such as Aer Lingus and Lutfhansa to support their BAE 146 regional jets. A strong relationship with BAE Systems saw the 500th C check pass through Inflite’s hangar.
With a keen flair for design, in 2005 Penny completely re-designed the Inflite offices, lounges and FBO facility. (To anyone who has ever visited the Inflite FBO and MRO the outstanding quality of these facilities is testament to Penny’s attention to detail).
Penny has always been swift to recognize an opportunity, acknowledges her daughter Pauline Monksfield, Director of Operations at Inflite. In 2006 prolific business entrepreneur Lord Alan Sugar and Managing Director of Amsair Daniel Sugar contacted Penny. Daniel wanted to have their brand new Embraer Legacy 600 aircraft maintained in the UK rather than Europe. Could Inflite help? The Legacy was brand new to the market, but taking it on and training engineers on the type proved to be a smart decision by Penny and Ray. Today, Inflite The Jet Centre is the largest EMEA Authorised Service Centre for the Legacy, Lineage and Phenom family.
In 2012, as CEO, Penny transformed Inflite The Jet Centre into a luxurious dedicated FBO and MRO, responding to a gap in the market for larger ‘VVIP’ lounges to host executive flights.
Gene Willson, Chairman of Titan Airways echoes Pauline’s endorsement.
“There are many businesses that have made their mark in the UK aviation industry for their high levels of customer service, loyalty and professionalism. Often there are individuals behind these businesses that have made these qualities stand out because of their care, attention and dedication. With over three decades running the Inflite FBO at London Stansted, Penny has built her business to be one of the most successful and respected in the sector.
I have had the privilege of watching Penny develop her business, in parallel with our own, and have seen the Inflite FBO become one of the most stunning facilities available. Penny is remarkable, a true professional in her field, who cares passionately about her business, her staff and her family. Titan Airways takes on many challenging operations, World record breaking flights, Government and Royalty, unusual charter operations, rock and pop tours, and Penny, along with her colleagues, always rises to the challenge of handling these flights. I am very pleased that Penny has achieved this accolade for her services to the aviation industry. It has a been an honour and pleasure to have been alongside her on this amazing journey.”
Alan Barnes, Head of Customer Service, who has worked with Inflite for 20 years in various engineering and senior leadership roles, adds: “There is an unsurpassed drive to achieve the impossible and offer solutions to this demanding sector. That drive is within Inflite’s DNA and that DNA is derived from Penny and other members of the family’s Board. Penny installs responsibility, confidence and exactly the right level of accountability. She is exceptionally thoughtful and respectful to her 70-strong employees. This award is well deserved.”
Inflite The Jet Centre’s expansion continues. Last month the business acquired Bombardier Challenger and Global Express specialist, Excellence Aviation of Farnborough, adding capability in Bombardier Global and Challenger MRO, CAMO and aircraft management to Inflite’s long-established activity on Embraer and Boeing BBJs.