Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tales of a high-value repo man

The Daily Mail has a long and very interesting article about the business of repossessing high-value aircraft from their hiding-places around the world. Here's an excerpt.

The problem with grabbing a plane, though, is that the errant lessee will often try to conceal it in the remotest place possible to prevent the bank from finding it. Popovich’s speciality is winning these multimillion-dollar games of global hide-and-seek.

He has operatives and informants all over the world staking out airfields and feeding him tips. He has grabbed planes from Russian airstrips at the edge of the Arctic Circle and from camouflage nets on jungle landing strips. He’s been locked up in a holding cell at Charles de Gaulle Airport and imprisoned in Haiti (accused of the attempted theft of a Boeing 720 jet), he’s been shot at, and he’s swiped planes from a beer magnate at Stansted, François Arpels (a member of the Van Cleef & Arpels clan), a New York Mob boss, a Ponzi schemer and a white supremacist. He has developed an uncanny knack for finding planes and fixing them enough to fly home – mostly legally, sometimes with the authorities in pursuit, with a door missing, an engine out and a tank full of spiked fuel.

'I have a death warrant out for me in the Congo,' he says. 'We snatched the president’s G2 jet after we got a call from the lender to say they wanted it back. Snatched it while his wife was shopping in Switzerland. But I can’t go to the Congo now.'

So is there always a risk?

'There’s an average of three repo guys a year killed doing car repos. So think: if someone’s going to kill you for a $60,000 car, what are they going to do for a $60 million plane? Sometimes it’s not just the airline; sometimes the whole country is going down and you’re taking this aeroplane. The union guys at the airport haven’t been paid and they see this aircraft as their way of getting paid. It’s their collateral and you’re there to take it. There are countries we go through, like Colombia and Ecuador, where the biggest industry is kidnapping. They know someone is going to pay the ransom. You start combining that risk with everything else.

'You have to tell these guys (the repo pilots) to be ready for anything. They think that if they’ve done four or five repossessions and haven’t had any trouble that it’s just a piece of cake. I tell ’em – it takes just one missed step and you are off the map.'

Popovich found himself in a spot of bother while repossessing a helicopter in Mexico. Despite a Mexican federal court order and back-up from a federal marshal, things didn’t exactly go to plan.

'The owner came out with an Uzi. The marshal looked at me and then just left. That Uzi trumped that court order pretty quickly.'

There's more at the link. Fascinating reading.


EDITED TO ADD: In a comment to this post, reader Fly To Your Dreams points out that the Daily Mail article is essentially a shorter version of a much longer and more detailed one in the Smithsonian's Air & Space magazine. I recommend reading the Smithsonian article too.


perlhaqr said...

But I can’t go to the Congo now

Well, his heart must just be breaking over that one.

I mean, it's right near the top of my list of vacation destinations. Directly under Hell, and Los Angeles. ;)

Old NFO said...

Good article, and he obviously clanks when he walks :-)

Fly To Your Dreams said...

A better article on some of the same guys was published in Air & Space Smithsonian last year.