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Published: Wednesday, 4/9/2003

Grand Aire fatal accident 2nd since July

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Grand Aire Express has lost four of its employees to fatal plane crashes since moving to Toledo Express Airport from Monroe Custer Airport in early 1999.

Three people were killed yesterday when one of the company's Dassault Falcon 20 cargo jets crashed in a heavily wooded area at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark on approach to Toledo Express Airport.

Hours later, another Grand Aire jet flying from Texas crashed in the Mississippi River just north of downtown St. Louis. Two people were rescued from the river; one was in critical condition and the other was in serious condition, authorities said.

The fatal crash in Swanton Township was the second fatal accident since July.

Mukesh K. Gupta, 25, was killed while attempting to land in heavy fog at Columbus, Ind., Municipal Airport about 3:45 a.m. on July 18. The twin engine Piper Aerostar PA-600 he was piloting crashed in a grassy area along the runway.

The cargo jet was hauling parts from Cleveland to Cummins Engine Co. in Columbus, 40 miles south of Indianapolis.

Grand Aire, which flies out of a $3.5 million facility at Toledo Express Airport, was formed in 1985 by Tahir Cheema, who is now company president. The company - which delivers auto parts and other cargo and runs a charter passenger operation and other services - had a 26-aircraft fleet until yesterday.

Although Grand Aire had no fatal incidents until last year's Indiana crash, the company has been involved in several crashes over the last several years, according to federal aviation safety and industry crash databases. The incidents include:

wOn June 16, 2000, a Grand Aire Falcon 20 carrying auto parts crashed while trying to make a third landing attempt at an airport in Peterborough, Ont.

The two-member crew had aborted two landing attempts - apparently because of bad weather - and went down in a muddy field. They walked away from the crash and were picked up by rescue workers.

wIn 1999, a two-man crew avoided injury when their plane landed on its belly and skidded off a Detroit City Airport runway into a cemetery.

wA company pilot overran a Tennessee runway in 1995 and collided with a concrete wall and trees, injuring the pilot.

wLater that year a two-man crew avoided injuries when their plane clipped trees during a training exercise near an airport in South Bend, Ind.

In addition to the crashes, Grand Aire spent 18 months between 2001 and 2002 embroiled in a legal battle with the Federal Aviation Administration over 12 alleged violations.

In the biggest case, the FAA claimed the company replaced an engine in a cargo plane in 1999 and flew it for six months without performing the required tests.

None of the violations resulted in crashes, but the company made a dozen flights with the replacement engine after the FAA notified it of the problem. The company countered that it did the tests but did not keep the proper paperwork.

Grand Aire came to Toledo from Monroe amid controversy in 1998 and 1999. Two other fixed-base operators at Toledo Express complained to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority that the firm would compete unfairly with them.

The issue centered on Grand Aire actively competing with the two existing businesses at the airport - Tol Aviation and National Flight Services - in fueling and fixing planes.

Some members of the Port Authority board argued that allowing Grand Aire to operate out of Toledo Express with state job tax credits as well as partial tax abatements on land was unfair to the other firms, both of which still operate out of the Toledo airport.



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