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For the second time in four months, the Federal Aviation Administration has hit Corporate Air of Billings with a major fine for failing to repair problems with its airplanes.

Corporate Air, which started business in Billings 30 years ago, faces total fines topping $1 million for failing to follow FAA regulations.

Last week, the FAA fined Corporate Air $585,725 for allegedly flying a twin-turboprop cargo airplane at least 81 times between Dec. 21, 2009 and Feb. 4, 2010 when the plane had exterior corrosion. The company has 30 days to respond to the proposed fine.

The FAA said Corporate Air failed to detect the corrosion even though regulations require inspections of the aircraft after each flight. The company also failed to run required structural inspections for four years from March 2006 to February 2010, the FAA said.

The previous penalty in October involved a $455,000 FAA fine for failing to fix a serious engine oil leak on a passenger airplane.

Instead of repairing the right engine as required, Corporate Air flew passengers 80 times on a Beechcraft 1900C by pouring two quarts of oil into an engine that held 14.4 quarts of oil, according to an Oct. 14 story in the Christian Science Monitor.

The FAA said the company logged the oil leak properly in its maintenance logs, but didn’t fix the leak.

“The safety of the passengers and crew must be the top priority for any operator,” FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said after the October citation. “All operators must comply with maintenance requirements.”

The FAA was closed for Presidents Day on Monday and no one was available to elaborate on the twin disciplinary actions or whether Corporate Air has paid the October fine. Also, the full report on the latest citation was unavailable because the agency’s website was being updated.

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Corporate Air, founded in 1981 in Billings, initially flew freight to Helena.

The carrier now specializes in flying passenger charters and cargo to feeder airlines in nine northwestern states, plus Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and South America. Operations are run out of six cities: Billings; Great Falls; Grand Forks, N.D.; Casper, Wyo.; Salt Lake City and Honolulu.

Corporate Air was one of the first Montana airlines to win FAA certification to fly regularly scheduled flights anywhere in the U.S. and Canada, according to its website.

President and Chief Executive Linda Overstreet did not immediately return calls from The Billings Gazette for comment.

After the October fine, the company released a statement saying it “respectfully disagrees” with those FAA’s allegations and would be meeting with the federal officials.

“All of us at Corporate Air are dedicated to safe and efficient operations,” the statement said.

The October fine was levied after Corporate Air violated eight sections of federal aviation regulations, according to the Monitor. That meant the company faced total fines of at least $880,000 or $11,000 per flight.

When asked why the October penalty was half as high as it could have been, the FAA told the Monitor that the agency uses a “complicated calculation” involving aggravating and mitigating factors.

Contact Jan Falstad at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com or 406-657-1306.

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Contact Jan Falstad at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com or 406-657-1306.

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