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Steve Padgett: aviation pioneering at its finest

Jul 29, 2019, 03:51 AM by Alliance Airlines

Steve Padgett’s fascination with all things aircraft began when he was a small boy growing up in the early 1950s in the inner western Sydney suburb of Ashbury. And it has never wavered since. Over the course of more than 50 years, Steve has occupied practically every seat within the aviation industry: pilot, instructor, salesman, purchaser, charter operator, broker, spare parts provider, airport facility operator and, of course, most significantly, co-founder and chairman of Australia’s third largest aviation group, Alliance Airlines.

This remarkable contribution was formally acknowledged this June, when, as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Steve was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for outstanding achievement and service.

“If it’s not a stupid question, Mr Padgett, how do you stay so upbeat and passionate all the time, particularly at your age?”  a well-lubricated staffer asked the Alliance chairman, as the airline’s end of financial year party reached dizzying heights. The chairman didn’t quite know whether to hug him or hit him, given the back-handed nature of the compliment. But his answer still came quickly. “I work in aviation,” said Steve. “How could I not be upbeat and passionate?!”

The anecdote captures perfectly the mindset of a man who has devoted his entire professional life to aviation in Australia. In typical fashion, the Alliance chairman has never sought the limelight, often preferring instead to go quietly about his business, and always putting back into the industry as much as than he takes out, if not more.

Aside from his broad responsibilities with Alliance, Steve is the founder and managing director of Flight Options, a Sunshine Coast Airport-based business specialising in advanced pilot training, private jet charter and ab-initio training. While in his ‘spare time’ he also serves as the chairman of the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame, and sits on the council  of the Australian Air Force Cadets.

Alliance Managing Director Scott McMillan calculates that there are thousands of Australians who owe Steve a debt of gratitude. “His influence on aviation in Australia has been profound,“ McMillan said. “All the people Steve has employed over the years through his various businesses, suppliers, pilots he has trained, scholarship holders he’s sponsored – not to mention all  the passengers he’s carried on his aircraft – it’s impossible to accurately fathom the impact he’s had. “And he’s done all of it with his  own money… It’s one thing to build a business empire, but Steve carried all the commercial risk himself.”

One of the Alliance chairman’s greatest legacies, says McMillan, is the role he played in developing the Sunshine Coast Airport into what it is today. “Maroochydore was virtually a wasteland before  Steve moved his business there  in the early 1990s,” he explains.  “The terminal was nothing much  more than a big shed. But through his entrepreneurial spirit and charismatic personality, Steve attracted business to the area. Singapore Airlines, for instance,  soon established a world-class training facility for all its pilots  within the airport precinct. Virtually singlehandedly, he put Maroochydore on the map.”

However, just as commendable as what Steve has created over the course of his distinguished career, is how he has gone about it. From a very early age, he focused on building and retaining long-term, mutually beneficial relationships – not only with the people who could potentially help him at the time, but with virtually everybody he encountered.

Over the years, this generosity of spirit and authenticity opened doors and created opportunities that would never have surfaced had he opted instead for a quick fix or to make a quick buck. He told anybody who would listen that the best type of customer was a repeat customer: somebody who over time would become a willing advocate. It’s no coincidence that Alliance has only ever lost one contract – a contract that six months later was renewed, when the mining company realised it had made a terrible mistake.

“Steve is a genuine pioneer of aviation in this country,” says McMillan. “He’s shown the way,  he’s set standards, and without his vision and foresight, Alliance wouldn’t exist as it does today. There is no more worthy recipient of an OAM.”

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