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BBGA honours Penny Stephens with prestigious award
Inflight The Jet Centre CEO Penny Stephens is a veteran, and vocal proponent, of business aviation. She has been honoured for outstanding services with an award from the BBGA.
BBGA honours Penny Stephens, CEO of Inflite The Jet Centre, with its prestigious Michael Wheatley Award.

Inflite The Jet Centre CEO Penny Stephens was heralded by the BBGA (British Business & General Aviation Association) 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 CEO Marc Bailey during the association's annual conference.

“This award is in recognition of the remarkable contribution Penny has given, and continues to make, to our industry,” says Bailey. “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.”

Stephen's interest in aviation began when she learned to fly at the Southend Flying School aged 17. Her first aviation job was with Thurston Aviation in Stapleford, working alongside Eric Thurston, a pioneer in the European aviation industry. 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, She joined him 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, she completely re-designed the Inflite offices, lounges and FBO facility in 2005. To anyone who has ever visited, the outstanding quality of these facilities is testament to her attention to detail.

Stephens has always been swift to recognise an opportunity. Her daughter, Inflight director of operations Pauline Monksfield, recalls that in 2006 prolific business entrepreneur Lord Alan Sugar and managing director of Amsair Daniel Sugar contacted her mother. Amsair wanted to have its brand new Embraer Legacy 600 maintained in the UK rather than Europe. The Legacy was new to the market, but taking it on and training engineers on the type proved to be a smart decision by Stephens and her husband. Today, Inflite The Jet Centre is the largest EMEA authorised service centre for the Legacy, Lineage and Phenom family.

In 2012, as CEO, she 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. Titan Airways chairman Gene Willson comments: “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, including world record-breaking flights, flying government and royalty, unusual charter operations and rock and pop tours, and Penny, along with her colleagues, always rises to the challenge of handling these flights. I am very pleased that she has achieved this accolade for her services to the aviation industry.”

Head of customer service Alan Barnes, 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 Global and Challenger MRO, CAMO and aircraft management to Inflite's long-established activity on Embraer and Boeing BBJs.

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