Broker of C-130 aircraft flies through clouds of red tape
Bill Eck was introduced to his business, HeavyLift International, about 18 years ago by a friend, the late Al Reddick, who owned
Aviation Classics at the Stead Airport. And it all began with a trade.
Reddick’s inventory included an MiG-15 UTI, a two-seater jet trainer from the Communist bloc. Dell Smith, the founder of Evergreen Aviation, wanted the plane and was willing to trade a used C-130 to get it.
Even though Reddick and Eck didn’t know much about C-130s, the four-engine military transport aircraft that’s been in service for more than five decades, the trade was made and they were in business.
Today, Sparks-based HeavyLift International works its way through stacks of paperwork to sell C-130s to governments and private organizations around the world.
Eck said a lot of sweat equity literal sweat went into the company’s first deal as the men spent six weeks in August disassembling a C-130 stored outside Tucson, Ariz.
“We’d start at 4 a.m. and by noon you couldn’t live inside that airplane,” he said. “Once people found out we were selling parts to that aircraft the business grew in a hurry.”
Even so, Eck and Reddick found themselves on a steep learning curve as they figured out how to sell two C-130s they had purchased. With 95 percent of the business being international, transactions require approval from six levels four within the State Department and two within the Defense Department if a company wants to export the aircraft.
Anyone in the private sector dealing with the aircraft operates in a very controlled environment.
“The airplane is considered ‘Significant Military Equipment’, and anything that’s SME passes through the State Department’s sieve,” he said. “A red flag goes up and there’s a gentleman on the phone advising that you’re in a gray area, on thin ice and he wants to know what you’re doing. And you respond very quickly to that.”
About 2,300 C-130s have been built since 1954, Eck estimated, and the Sparks company has sold some of them to buyers
around the world.
One of the company’s first projects was finding a C-130 for purchase by the Lester Sumrall Evangelistic Association.
This aircraft was used to fly foodstuffs and other relief supplies into areas in need. Once the new owners bought the C-130, they spent several million dollars upgrading it.
“It was the finest A Model flying,” Eck said.
As an example of the work involved with an export sale, Eck points to the company’s recent sale of a C-130 to the Central African Republic.
A huge amount of paperwork was generated and it all had to be perfect. In fact, because of a small paperwork glitch, the company waited from June 2006 to February 2007 to get the necessary approvals from federal officials.
After mandatory inspections of the plane were completed, there was the matter of needed certificates. One, the Export Certificate
of Airworthiness, comes after an intense inspection from the FAA.
Another certificate, which comes from State’s Defense Trade Controls Office, is the End User’s Certificate EUC for short that has HeavyLift International’s name on it.
“That EUC stays in place and we’re responsible until the transfer when a specific government retains actual ownership,” Eck said. “It can be a very sweaty thing as HeavyLift is responsible for that airplane until the change occurs.”
A ferry crew flew the aircraft from Florida to the Azores, to Europe, down the west coast of Africa and on to the Central African Republic. Once the plane arrived, officials from the African nation signed the EUC, which was returned to the State Department.
Eck explained that demand is high for C-130s because for a plane of that size and lifting capability it has the lightest footprint in the industry. It’s perfect for the Central African Republic, because only three of the nation’s 52 runways are paved.
He added that HeavyLift operates in a very small world as only a few are certified or licensed to handle this particular aircraft.
Still, even though he’s had to learn a lot and deals with mountains of paperwork, Eck is happy with his career.
“I have a sign that says, ‘If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’ll never retire as I love coming to my office and talking to people about C-130 airplanes. And now I’m considered an expert in the field.”
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