The charter company involved in a near-collision with a passenger jet at Denver International Airport last week has had six crashes resulting in seven deaths since 2000, investigation records show.
Key Lime Air, a cargo carrier based at Centennial Airport, declined to comment Monday on the crashes.
Small charter operators, such as Key Lime Air, often hire inexperienced pilots, make frequent flights in harsh winter weather and buy older aircraft, aviation experts said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said that most of the Key Lime Air crashes were the result of pilot error and poor maintenance.
A Key Lime Air flight had been cleared Friday to get on a DIA taxiway, but entered a runway where a Frontier Airlines flight was landing, the NTSB said.
The Frontier pilots spotted the errant plane, ascended sharply, but came within an estimated 50 feet of the Key Lime Air flight, investigators said.
The NTSB, which investigates airline crashes, didn't return phone calls Monday, but an aviation expert said that the number of Key Lime crashes was alarming.
"Even one crash in 10 years would be unusual," said H. Harvey Album, a Colorado Springs aeronautical engineer and former chairman of the Congressional Aeronautical Committee.
"It's not typical for any of these small airlines to have this many crashes," Album said. "Most of these airlines have excellent safety records."
Key Lime Air was founded in 1997 as a small charter airline making cargo runs to rural airports and occasionally carrying a few passengers.
The NTSB database showed that Key Lime Air's first crash occurred March 17, 2000, in Dighton, Kan. The pilot and two passengers were killed.
The NTSB report said that the pilot flew into adverse weather conditions, including icing, and had improper in-flight planning.
The pilot had only 212 total flying hours, the NTSB report said.
"This is why the pilot at United is paid $200,000 a year for his experience," said Mike Boyd, an Evergreen aviation consultant. "The United pilot has 20,000 to 30,000 hours of experience or more."
Album said that the small airlines sometimes hire pilots just out of school. The pay is low, but the pilots take the jobs to build up their hours.
"Pilots have to start somewhere to get hours," Boyd said.
Key Lime Air's next crash came only three months later, on June 5, 2000, in Kiowa, the NTSB said. The flight instructor and the pilot died.
The NTSB said that the accident occurred because the flight instructor failed to maintain aircraft control while practicing a stall maneuver and went into a spin.
The instructor had 3,900 flight hours and the pilot had 276.7 hours, the NTSB said.
The third crash happened Sept. 24, 2001, in a steep, deeply forested area near Pagosa Springs, killing the pilot and co-pilot, the NTSB report said.
The flight crew flew low and failed to avoid obstacles, the NTSB said.
The pilot had 1,962 hours and the co-pilot had 468 hours, the NTSB said. The flight was a non-scheduled cargo run, the agency said.
A Key Lime Air flight on Nov. 1, 2003 to Rawlins, Wyo., went off the runway and hit a snowbank but the pilot wasn't injured, the NTSB said.
The NTSB said that pilot error and an icy, snowy runway caused the crash. The pilot had 3,372 flight hours, but only 188 hours in the same type and model of plane, investigators said.
On Nov. 18, 2003, the nose landing gear collapsed on a Key Lime Air flight landing at the Grand Junction Airport. No one was injured.
The NTSB investigation found that the nose gear was improperly maintained.
Key Lime Air had a previous incident at DIA on April 5, 2006, when the pilot took off, experienced a control problem and landed without incident, the NTSB said.
The NTSB found that maintenance personnel improperly routed a cable and that the maintenance inspector failed to notice the problem.
Key Lime Air's fatal crashes
Date Place Fatalities Cause
* March 17, 2000 Dighton, Kan. 3 Weather and pilot error
* June 5, 2000 Kiowa 2 Pilot error
* Sept. 24, 2001 Pagosa Springs 2 Pilot error
Source: National Transportation Safety Board
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