Ken Cage is the president and co-owner of International Recovery Group (IRG). But he is better known as the star of Discovery Channel’s hit TV show Airplane Repo, which follows Cage and his team as they repossess luxury yachts, cars and business aircraft. Corporate Jet Investor caught up with him to find out about the future of the show, and how IRG is adapting to the changing repossession market.
The fourth season has not been announced, but the window for the Discovery Channel to renew the show is still open. When we talked to Cage, he asked for fans of the show to follow and post on his social media accounts, and email the Discovery Channel, about their interest in the show, to make sure the series is continued.
“The network studies the activity levels on the pages, and it is a huge factor in the decision-making process for renewing the show.” he said.
The show clearly has a following and, if it does not make it back onto the Discovery Channel, he is confident that another network will pick it up.
“The network studies the activity levels on the pages, and it is a huge factor in the decision-making process for renewing the show.”
“The fact that the show got an audience of 2 million people during the first showing, with little to no publicity, is pretty amazing.” Most viewers come from the US, but the UK and Australia have also taken to the show very well.
“The fact that the show got an audience of 2 million people during the first showing, with little to no publicity, is pretty amazing.”
YouTube is another platform that the TV star is interested in using. “YouTube would allow us to use more raw footage and it would also mean we would not have to compress a four-day repo into 14 minutes. We could go into far more depth – something that the fans want to see,” he said.
However, to make YouTube a viable platform, the show would need sponsorship to maintain its high production values.
Cage has more than 20 years’ experience repossessing the toys of the rich and famous – and has the stories to show for it.
One of the most difficult aircraft repossessions he carried out was when a former NFL player turned pilot – who was high – attacked a pilot who was working for Ken. The pilot agreed to drop the assault charges in return for the aircraft logbooks.
Another interesting repo happened in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Cage and his pilot decided to execute the repo at night, and, as they approached the aircraft, a man appeared out of the darkness. Cage explained to the man, who was the son of the aircraft owner, that the repo was a done deal and he could call the bank to get his plane back. The man was not having any of it and grabbed the first thing he could find – a shovel.
After a few hundred yards of running, Cage and his pilot were able to hide behind a hangar and lose the debtor. They managed to sneak back to the hangar containing the aircraft and took off successfully. Cage says the irony was that this was all over a over a 1965 piston-engined aircraft, which was only worth $10,000!
However, behind the glamour of being a TV star and one of the most famous people in the industry, there is a more serious side to repossessing aircraft.
Before every repo, the IRG team spends a day or two researching as much as they can – finding out everything about the debtor, the asset’s last know location, and which of their contacts can help them gain any extra intelligence. Cage says this is the most overlooked part of the show, but one of the most vital stages of a successful repo. The team regularly build this framework of information as they prepare for a repo, but things rapidly change when they start to close in on the asset.
“The situation is always completely different. We need to figure out where the logbooks are, if the aircraft is airworthy, and if it can be moved to the apron easily. This part of the repo is always unique, and it is imperative that we think on our feet,” Cage explains.
But how has the TV show affected IRG?
Cage said that IRG has seen a small bump in business thanks to the media exposure, but not as much as people expect. The real impact of the show is seen during the repo itself. The repo men are recognised more often now, which surprisingly makes the repossession easier. When he is recognised, Cage has found that people usually ask what aircraft he is looking for, and point him in the right direction – making the job of finding the aircraft slightly less daunting.
The repossession industry – like all industries – has its fair share of fluctuations. But its economic cycle is polar opposite to the rest of the business world.
The 2008 economic crash was a repo man’s dream – there was a huge number of owners unable to pay for their luxury assets. Cage says that IRG stopped seeing the effects of the crash around 2013, as banks stopped repossessing assets, mostly due to the word’s negative reputation. “Banks lose money on 90-95% of repos. They are generally reactive not proactive.” This is another reason why repossessions were becoming less common.
Banks have started to repo again, but this time they are implementing some new ideas that IRG has been lobbying for. The biggest difference is that banks are now telling recovery firms what they are going to pay – rather than receiving offers from the recovery firms. Stopping competitive bidding makes the process much quicker. However, the main benefit is that the cost of repossession for debtors is the same, rather than different debtors having to pay different fees even if an identical asset was repossessed at exactly the same time.
The repo industry is smaller than it once was. The media exposure surrounding repossessions saw a lot of firms jumping into the industry, but this has since quietened down – with IRG being one of the few firms to remain. He doesn’t see the industry expanding massively, unless media attention increases around the industry.
Although the future of Airplane Repo is unknown, there will always be an owner behind on payments – and always enough business for the repo men.