Saturday, August 14, 2004

Father-son airline flies for major cargo firms

Columbus-based outfit operates 13 turboprops

By James Pilcher
Enquirer staff writer

Founded by a father-and-son team, Columbus-based cargo and charter airline Air Tahoma was looking to get bigger.

Instead, it faces a major investigation in the wake of Friday's crash of one of its planes in Florence near the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Noel Rude founded the company in 1996, and it is based out of Rickenbacker Airport, according to the company's Web site.

Air Tahoma is a spin-off from Cool Air Inc., which was founded in 1986 by Rude and his father, Bud Rude, who is a veteran of the airline industry and who founded the parent company that originally flew firefighting missions in Washington.

Officials would not comment Friday on the crash or on the company's past safety performance.

But its Web site and a filing earlier this year with the Department of Transportation for certification to operate larger airplanes said that it has contracts with several major freight carriers, including DHL and FedEx.

Three of those contracts include flights between Memphis, Pittsburgh and Cleveland to DHL's Cincinnati hub.

DHL's local operation is due to close in September 2005 as the company moves its domestic operations to another hub in Wilmington, 50 miles northeast of Cincinnati.

Many freight carriers contract with airlines such as Air Tahoma to fly to cities without enough traffic to support a larger jet.

Air Tahoma operates 13 planes, all of them small, twin-engine turboprop Convairs (either the 580 or the 240), while the main local carrier for DHL - Astar Air Cargo - operates much larger Boeing 727s, DC-8s and Airbus 300s.

Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Mosley said Friday the application was being reviewed after regulators asked for more clarification on what the airline was seeking.

Air Tahoma has had several safety and maintenance issues, federal records show.

The company acknowledged in its Transportation Department filing that the Federal Aviation Administration cited Air Tahoma for maintenance problems three times in the past four years. It paid $5,000 to settle one case that began in 2000 for a citation for unspecified problems with providing an airworthy aircraft.

It also said that the claims were based on fraudulent accusations by former employees and that it settled because it would cost less than fighting the charges.

Appeals on the other citations are still pending and FAA officials would not provide further details on those.

Air Tahoma's planes also have been involved in two official accidents or incidents since 1996.

One was Jan. 7, when an Air Tahoma turboprop lost all oil pressure in one engine while trying to land in Memphis on Jan. 7, but landed safely with the other engine.

And another plane flown by the company had its engine catch fire upon landing in Pittsburgh in October 2003.

No one was hurt.


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