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Grounded plane could be sold off

September 14, 2009
By STEVE BROWNLEE Journal Staff Writer and Journal staff

MARQUETTE - The case of the Ukrainian military jet grounded at a Marquette County airport may be slowly grinding its way to a resolution.

That's at least in part due to the absence of any response from its owners to decisions handed down in a county court over the past two months.

If no adequate reason is given by Sept. 21 to 25th Circuit Court Judge Thomas L. Solka for this lack of acknowledgment, another hearing will be scheduled to potentially sell the large Soviet-era military plane so a Texas company can collect on thousands of dollars of fees it said it is owed for its work on the jet at its base in northern Texas.

Article Photos

The grounded Ukrainian transport sits on the tarmac at Sawyer International Airport recently. (Photo courtesy ANZ Photography)

That is according to Daniel D. Mead, a partner and attorney with the Ishpeming- and L'Anse-based law firm of Graybill & Mead, PLLC.

He is representing Air-1 Flight Support of Grayson County, Texas, in the Marquette County court as it has sought a way to be paid for more than $62,000 for service, fuel and storage of the Ilyushin IL-78 in Texas since 2007.

In addition, several thousands of dollars in fees have been racked up while the plane has been parked on a ramp at Sawyer International Airport, according to a representative with Boreal Aviation. Those fees could also be recovered with the sale of the plane.

Included is nearly $1,000 when Boreal representatives were on hand when U.S. Border Protection agents and Marquette County Sheriff's deputies secured the plane when it landed, along with a $30 daily fee for parking on the Sawyer ramp.

Court documents show the plane is owned by Tactical Air Defense Services Inc. of Florida and leased by Air Support System of Delaware.

Their lack of response prompted their default in the case as ordered on Aug. 21, putting them on a 30-day deadline to respond or possibly see their property sold.

One model of the IL-78 on the Internet shows this cargo jet has a 165-foot wingspan, 152-foot length, top speed of 530 mph, range of 4,550 miles, and during its Soviet heyday, could carry 152 tons of fuel.

The plane has been parked at Sawyer since it landed there on July 17. The jet was making a fuel stop at the former U.S. Air Force base en route from Texas to a destination in Europe, according to an official with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Five crew members, including the pilot, who were on board the plane were detained upon landing at Sawyer by customs agents and sheriff's deputies, the sheriff's department reported in July.

Those detained had recently expired visas, according to spokesman Khalid Walls of the Detroit office of ICE. The charges against them were considered administrative rather than criminal, and they were "voluntarily removed" from the U.S. and placed on commercial flights back to the former Soviet republic. Their names weren't released because the case was not criminal, Walls said.

Following several extensions of the temporary restraining order keeping the jet grounded, Solka signed a preliminary injunction two days after an Aug. 10 hearing, saying in the order that "it appears that the Plaintiff (Air-1) will suffer irreparable injury if an Order for Preliminary Injunction is not entered ..."

The injunction also directs the sheriff's department to ensure that the "placement of obstacles" around the jet's tires remain, and that Marquette County will retain jurisdiction in the case unless the Grayson County court "takes actions on the merit of this matter before Marquette County does ..."

A district court in the Texas county has scheduled a trial on Jan. 12, 2010, in Air-1's lawsuit seeking the $62,000 payment, according to supporting documents in the Marquette County case.

It shows invoices from Air-1 for numerous months of hangar rental, more than 1,500 gallons of jet fuel, preparations to start and move the aircraft, and maintenance for such things as reinstalling some of the plane's instruments, recharging batteries and rewelding a metal fence at the Texas airport blown down by the jet's exhaust.

Air-1 filed a claim with a notary public for a lien on the plane in Grayson County on Jan. 22, 2008, according to the supporting documentation.



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