Monday, December 19, 2011

Beechcraft King Air B200: North Dakota lawmakers question cost of North Dakota State University plane

State lawmakers are questioning North Dakota State University's decision to spend more than $1.05 million to lease and operate a private plane over a two-year period that is flown for fewer than 70 hours annually.

"It probably is a lot cheaper to have them just hire planes when they need to fly somewhere," said Rep. Glen Froseth, R-Kenmare.

Froseth is a member of a legislative committee that collected the cost data for NDSU's plane, a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air B200, as part of a study of airplane use by state government. A handful of agencies own planes, including the Department of Transportation, the state Game and Fish Department and the Highway Patrol.

NDSU's development foundation bought the plane and has leased it to the university since June 2007, records show.

As part of the lease agreement, NDSU must make $3.23 million in lease payments by May 2017, in installments of $80,729 every three months. The university has paid $1.45 million so far. When the lease payments end, NDSU may buy the plane for $1, the agreement says.

The university told the Legislative Council, the research arm of the North Dakota Legislature, that it used the plane for 137.7 hours during the state's last two-year budget period, which began July 1, 2009, and ended June 30, 2011.

During those two years, the university spent $1.05 million to lease and operate the plane, or more than $7,600 for every hour it was flown. The figure includes the cost of fuel, insurance, maintenance and pilots, and the expense of keeping the plane in a hangar.

North Dakota State recently began allowing a private company, the Fargo Jet Center, to charter the plane when the university does not need it, spokeswoman Laura McDaniel said Monday. The Jet Center's fee for customers to hire the plane is normally $1,500 an hour.

The Jet Center has chartered the plane on three days this month, McDaniel said. The amount of money the university received from the charters was not immediately available, she said.

NDSU has used the eight-passenger plane twice in the last three weeks, both times for trips to Bismarck to attend academic meetings. Fargo and Bismarck are almost 200 miles apart.

One flight, on Nov. 30, carried the presidents of NDSU, Valley City State University, Mayville State University and the North Dakota State College of Science. The second, on Dec. 6, had three passengers.

The University of North Dakota, which operates an aerospace school and owns a fleet of airplanes for student training, spent $104,477 during the same two-year period on private plane flights for UND's president and other school officials, the university said. The UND president's office was billed for 82.2 hours of private flights, which equals an hourly cost of about $1,270.

UND owns 72 planes, and the UND Aerospace Foundation, which supports the Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at the university, owns 56. They are mostly used for flight training, and the fees it charges for transporting school officials depends on the type of plane used.

The legislative committee, which is headed by Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, will compile a report for the Legislature, and may introduce bills to remedy any perceived problems.

One committee member, Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, said it may be more economical for NDSU to hire a UND flight if school officials need a plane on short notice.

"Maybe NDSU and UND could certainly share," Laffen said. "That seems like that could work."

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota lawmakers have questions about North Dakota State University's spending on a private plane.

The university spends more than $500,000 a year to lease and operate the twin-engine Beechcraft King Air plane.

It's flown for fewer than 70 hours a year. That adds up to more than $7,600 an hour. When a private company rents out the same plane, it charges $1,500 an hour.

A legislative committee is looking into airplane use by state agencies.

Kenmare state Rep. Glen Froseth says NDSU might be better off if the school chartered private planes as needed.

Grand Forks Sen. Lonnie Laffen says NDSU and the University of North Dakota might want to share a plane. UND has a flight school and a fleet of planes.

No comments:

Post a Comment