LONDON – Despite the many modern conveniences of everyday life, there are still trackers among us. These skilled observers are not looking for broken branches or the depth of heel tracks in the dirt, but for tie-downs and hangar rentals. Their prey isn’t a feast for the night, but a $2.2 million dollar Piper Malibu sitting alone on the ramp.
This is essentially the life of the airplane repossession man. On the Discovery series Airplane Repo, there are often fistfights, arguments, last-minute repair jobs, and quick getaways, but in real life, the job is more Sherlock Holmes than Dog the Bounty Hunter. An airplane repo man is generally a former professional pilot, who possesses a combination of book and street smarts.
Typically, the job goes like this: a bank or loan agency will contact an airplane repossession company and provide as many details as they can about a missing or delinquent airplane. Then, through research and paperwork, the company will begin to search for the missing planes. Sometimes, it’s a simple phone call. Other times, it might literally mean chasing runaway pilots around the globe.
The Super Repo Man
Enter Nick Popovich, a.k.a. the “super repo man.” Popovich, a former commercial airplane pilot, was initially approached by a few bankers who knew him. At the time, the bank had loaned a company enough cash to buy a few Boeing 747s, but the client had stopped making payments, and perhaps worse, stopped maintaining the airplanes.
The bankers needed someone in a hurry, or else the planes would require even more work to make them flyable again. Popovich agreed to give it a go. In this first gig, he followed the airplane to an airport in Asia by tracking hangar rental slips, fuel purchase receipts, and records from the Federal Aviation Administration. When he found the hideout, he rounded up a crew to help him legally steal back the jumbos.
On site, he explained to the current employees that his team was simply there to perform an inspection. They said they needed to make sure the planes were airworthy. Their fake test involved fueling up the planes, firing up the engines, and filing flight planes to Australia. “By the time they figured it out, we were gone,” joked Popovich about his first undercover job.
In Australia, they refueled and continued the journey to Mojave where the bank had arranged storage for the prize. After the heist, he collected his check. “That paid a lot more than I expected,” he said. “I decided there was a business there.” After this initial sting, Popovich – who looks more like a bouncer than your typical entrepreneur – gave himself the title, “Aircraft Repossession Specialist.”