Plane in fatal crash had special permit
The Hansa HFB320 corporate jet that Grand Aire founder Tahir Cheema was
flying from suburban St. Louis to Toledo when he and a copilot were
killed in a Nov. 30 crash was operating under a special "ferry permit"
issued to planes that might be in need of repair.
Ferry permits are issued by the Federal Aviation Administration's
regional offices and give the owners or operators of aircraft permission
to make a special one-way trip with aircraft that might have mechanical
or other issues.
The permits are issued by the FAA's regional offices after an on-site,
certified mechanic verifies the planes are airworthy.
Many times, the permits are issued with special conditions attached,
such as stating that the flight must happen during the day or in good
But the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board, which is
investigating the fatal crash that occurred shortly after takeoff,
refused yesterday to provide The Blade with details about Mr. Cheema's
- including the name of the mechanic who certified the plane airworthy
for the trip.
Mr. Cheema's ferry permit is considered evidence by the NTSB
investigation, and will be withheld from public release until after the
agency completes its crash investigation, said Elizabeth Cory, a
spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.
"The basis of a ferry permit is that it's saying the aircraft is OK to
fly from point A to point B. But they normally have a number of
restrictions," she said.
NTSB investigator Jim Silliman, who was reportedly working at the crash
site west of the Spirit of St. Louis Airport yesterday, could not be
reached for comment.
He has declined comment in the past about the investigation.
The Grand Aire corporate jet took off Nov. 30 about 9:15 p.m. Toledo
time in rain that would later turn to snow. Witnesses said it sounded as
if the engines on the 35-year-old, German-made Hansa jet stopped running
shortly after takeoff.
Mr. Cheema, 50, of Perrysburg, and his copilot, 40-year-old Eko Pinardi
of Fort Wayne, Ind., died when the jet slammed into trees on the edge of
Howell Island on the Missouri River.
The crash and Mr. Cheema's death punctuated continuing safety problems
that have plagued the Swanton-based airline, which last year had two air
cargo planes crash on the same day. It is the only time in U.S. aviation
history that has occurred other than the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
Three pilots, including Grand Aire's chief pilot, were killed in April
2003 when their cargo plane crashed in Oak Openings Metropark just short
of Toledo Express Airport. Hours later, two other pilots were injured
when their plane went down in the Mississippi River near downtown St.
Louis, shortly after reporting the aircraft was low on fuel while
circling for a second landing approach.
The Hansa jet, which sat for eight months at Spirit of St. Louis Airport
while Mr. Cheema tried to sell it, was repaired twice during the day of
its final flight Nov. 30. The first repair was for a battery problem,
and the second repair, undertaken after an aborted takeoff, was to
unclog the air speedometer, called a pitot static tube, a source
previously told The Blade.
Midcoast Aviation, the on-site maintenance company that serviced the
jet, would not comment on the repairs.
Although he took off from the Spirit airport in Chesterfield, Mo., Mr.
Cheema received his ferry permit from the FAA's Detroit-area office,
near where he used to operate his air cargo business at Custer Airport
in Monroe, Ms. Cory said.
The Detroit-area FAA office is where Grand Aire's operating certificates
for its planes are held and is considered to be the company's home FAA
When Mr. Cheema relocated his business from Custer to Toledo Express in
1999, the FAA relocated his "certificate management office" to one in
But Mr. Cheema requested that his "certificate management office" be
returned to the Detroit area, Ms. Cory said.
The FAA honored his special request, but the agency would not tell The
Blade why. An FAA official who did not want to be identified told The
Blade it's not unusual for a ferry permit to be issued by the office
where the company's certificates are held.
But the source also said normal procedure is to obtain the permit from
the FAA regional office nearest where the aircraft involved is located.
In the case of Mr. Cheema's Hansa jet, that would have been the office
at Spirit of St. Louis Airport.