When business aviation is a passion

Published: 23 May 2018

Steve Grimes

After a spell working in the airline industry, Steve Grimes moved in to business aviation, where he took on many challenging and rewarding roles. Grimes is now putting his experience to good use as managing director of Stobart Jet Centre, at London Southend airport.

How did you get into aviation?

I was at university doing a degree in building surveying and found it boring, although I have put it to good use with various properties. So I applied to British Airways – my dad had regularly taken my brothers and I to watch the aircraft at Heathrow, which I was fascinated by. In those days, there was just a 3ft (1m) perimeter fence, which was broken in places.

Tell us about your career to date

Eight years with British Airways was great fun and great training. I joined the worldwide operations control centre as an operations clerk. They put me in various departments: finance, catering, sales, operations control and load control. I loved load control and used to do the weight and balance on a range of aircraft, including the Aérospatiale Concorde, Boeing 707 and 747, Lockheed Tristar and Vickers VC10. I emigrated to Australia and joined Lloyd Aviation Group as general manager, but had to return to the UK at the end of 1989 when my child became very ill.

Luton airport paid for us to relocate, and I was appointed airside operations manager, before joining Servisair as head of commercial operations. After the company was floated in 1996, I was headhunted by Egyptian entrepreneur Mohammed al Fayed – owner of the Harrods department store in London. – to set up the best business aviation company in the world. He had acquired a venture called Hunting Business Aviation which was losing £3 million a year. We started by rebranding as Metro Business Aviation. Once the company was performing well, we changed the name to Harrods Aviation. My baby! I loved it and spent 10 very happy years building it. After Harrods came Ocean Sky Aviation. It was certainly a challenge building a large group of aviation companies for Russian shareholders. I then worked for myself as an adviser to various aviation companies including the British Airports Authority, BBA Aviation and Inflite Engineering before joining the Stobart Group in July 2017. Stobart asked me to bring business aviation to London Southend, and hence the creation of the Stobart Jet Centre fixed-based operation. SJC is a passion of mine, and once again I love what I am doing.

What are the highlights of your career?

Concorde. Both as a passenger and working on the weight and balance and despatch team. I loved every minute. I still visit aircraft G-BOAE in its air-conditioned hangar in Barbados whenever I can, and remember her fondly.

Australia was a great adventure too. Flying to places like Moomba and Jackson in the Outback was an experience. Floating Servisair was a challenge – and I love a challenge. Building Harrods Aviation from the start was great fun, and again, a love-affair.

The premiere of James Bond movie Quantum of Solace with 12 different plugs for Ocean Sky in the film was memorable. Our Bombardier Challenger 604 was used in some scenes.

Now Stobart Jet Centre is my new passion, and I am loving every second. The best bit is building the team, and choosing and putting fantastic people together to build something special.

What are the low points?

Leaving Australia with a sick child, not knowing the future. Leaving Harrods Aviation after 10 years was hard too. 9/11 was dreadful and killed business aviation for the following 12 months. Worst of all was losing my dad. We talked about business and all its challenges. He taught me so much.

How has the FBO industry evolved since you entered it?

Back in 1997 when I joined Al Fayed and Metro Business Aviation, there was nothing to speak of in Europe and the UK. Luton was a quiet airport, with Magec its only FBO, concentrating on Hawker business jets. We soon changed that. There are now multiple FBOs at Luton and across Europe, which just didn't exist 20 years ago.

Tell us about your current role

As managing director of SJC, I am building a vibrant business aviation company at Southend. It is the only 24h airport for London that does not have any restrictions for operators this summer. My role is to build, drive and motivate.

What are the plans for Stobart Jet Centre?

Firstly to grow business aircraft movements at Southend from 1,000 a year to 10,000 by 2022. I also plan to develop a chain of SJCs – probably five in western Europe – and establish Stobart as a major player in business aviation.

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