When NORAD Has To Get Involved, It's Seldom Good
Is it all a misunderstanding over paperwork... or the thwarting
of a somewhat shady scheme? That's the question posed by a lone
MD-87 airliner now sitting on the ramp at Milwaukee's Mitchell
International Airport, after the plane was diverted from its
planned flight to Canada this weekend.
The Milwaukee (WI) Journal-Sentinel reports the $15 million
corporate airliner (similar to type shown above) was destined for a
large Russian business. A civil dispute emerged during the sale
transaction, however, when the buyer claimed the plane wasn't
delivered on time.
As counterpoint, the Delaware-based seller says executives at
Russian telecommunications subsidiary Siviera wanted over $1
million in extras onboard the already well-equipped, 19-passenger
corporate conversion. Those extras included external cameras, and
such necessities as a karaoke machine. But the company didn't want
shareholders to know about those amenities... and asked the work be
billed as something else.
Representatives with Siveria say that money was being held in a
separate account while those luxuries were being installed at an
outfitter based at Meacham Field in Fort Worth, TX. An attorney for
the seller maintains the jet was due for completion in the next few
weeks -- but that plan didn't satisfy the Russians.
Which brings us to last
Saturday... when the plane departed Meacham bound for Moscow, with
a stopover in Canada. All was going well for the three Russian
pilots and three passengers onboard the plane... until NORAD caught
wind of the suspected plane theft from the FAA.
Major April Cunningham of the Colorado Springs, CO-based command
center said F-16s were at the ready, prepared to intercept the
allegedly pilfered plane... but the MD-87 landed in Milwaukee
before those planes had the chance to take flight.
Federal agents -- who weren't quite sure what to expect --
rushed to the airport, commandeered the plane and interviewed the
crew. Officials told the Journal-Sentinel it soon became clear what
had transpired was a contract dispute, and not necessarily an
international incident... but TSA official Ed Rooney says a
criminal investigation may still be warranted.
"I think there is something that needs to be looked into," said
Rooney. "There is definitely a dispute between the buyer and
seller, and the seller didn't want the plane leaving before it is
paid for. It's hard to send the repo man to Moscow."
FBI special agent Monica Shipley said Monday "there is no
criminal or terrorism nexus here." Meanwhile, a Delaware judge has
signed a restraining order, forbidding the plane to take flight
again until the entire mess is straightened out.
And then there's the question of whether the Russian flight crew
was even cleared to operate the plane in the first place. FAA
spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory says the agency had told the
pilots the aircraft was not airworthy -- and that the pilots did
not have the required waiver to fly the larger plane.
"Our inspector did not, emphasis not, say that the aircraft is
not airworthy," Cory said. "It comes down to the authorization for
Hopefully we'll get past this without an international incident,
and the new owners can one day share a vodka toast to those
excitable Americans...and our obsession with details.