Jim Finley of Destrehan plans to celebrate 50 years of flying on Saturday by 'just going to up and fly around a little while,' he says.
Photo Credit: Rusty Costanza, The Times-Picayune
Jim Finley, 72, says he fell in love with flying on his first flight, and by the end of that year, he had earned his pilot's license.
By Matt Scallan, The Times-Picayune
Jim Finley plans to climb into his small, no frills plane at the St. John the Baptist Parish Airport on Saturday and take it for a spin. Nothing unusual about that.
Between piloting Air Force jets that snatched film capsules from military satellites out of the sky, to flying children to Shriners burn units, and participating in search and rescue operations in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Finley has logged some 9,200 hours of flight time.
What will make Saturday's flight a special one is that it will mark the 50-year anniversary of Finley's first time in the cockpit.
Finley, a 72-year-old Destrehan resident, said he has no particular place to go on Saturday.
"I'm just going to up and fly around a little while to celebrate," he said Thursday.
Finley, who owns C.N. Finley Plumbing Co. sold his Cessna 210 and bought a 1946 Piper Cub J-3 a year ago, the same model plane that he flew in for the first time while in college.
The bright yellow plane has no avionics, no electrical system and no battery. Finley carries a portable radio with him. The 765-pound plane, which Finley easily rolls around the airport apron with a dolly that attaches to the rear wheel of the "tail-dragger," has a top speed of 72 mph.
"I enjoy it a lot more," he said. "The Cessna was transportation. The J-3 is flying."
A fellow student of Finley's at Louisiana Polytechnic Institute in Ruston took Finley on his first flight on Jan. 7, 1962.
"I fell in love with it immediately," he said.
A month later he took his first solo flight and by year's end he had his pilot's license. Finley joined the Air Force after college graduation, and was assigned to classified projects that included retrieving the satellite surveillance data over the Pacific Ocean as part of the nation's intelligence gathering efforts during the Cold War.
"If one broke up, or we missed one, a Russian submarine would always be there to pick it up," he said. Finley said he didn't fly for about 10 years after leaving the Air Force, but missed it more than he realized.
"I started to get so psycho about it, I couldn't go near airports. So my wife Lynne said, 'Start flying again,' " he said.
There are relatively few pilots Finley's age. only 28,000 of the 628,000 licensed pilots in the United States are 70 or older, according to Federal Aviation Administration estimates.
But Finley said he is healthy and has no plans to leave the cockpit anytime soon.
"There's a sense of freedom up there. It's very relaxing," he said "You have to focus on the flying and forget about everything else."
WOODBINE - Mayor William Pikolycky is pleased to announce that the Woodbine Municipal Port Authority will receive bids for Apron & Taxiway Crack repair - Phase II on Jan. 18, 2012, at 11 a.m. at the Woodbine Municipal Services Building.
The project is for construction work to repair cracks and isolated areas of pavement heaving for Taxiway A and B. Work will involve pavement crack repair, airfield pavement markings with reflective media, as well as patching of pavement where necessary.
It is funded by a $75,000 New Jersey Department of Transportation grant.
“Doing this work will help prevent the taxiways from further deterioration and extend its longevity,” added Mayor Pikolycky. “at the same time maintaining the safety of our pilots and their aircraft.”
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mountain State University President Charles H. Polk has repeatedly used the university's two private airplanes to jet to an airport near his North Carolina home, and visit his hometown in Texas on the university's dime, according to interviews and flight records.
Since 2007, Polk has made more than 100 flights to and from the Statesville Regional Airport in North Carolina -- an airport about 20 minutes away from Polk's Mooresville, N.C., house, Federal Aviation Administration records show
Polk has also used one of the university planes to make at least 18 flights to and from his hometown in Lufkin, Texas, where his mother still lives, according to flight records.
On Wednesday, Polk denied taking hundreds of flights on the university jet and said all the flights to Texas and North Carolina were for university business.
Polk did tell the Gazette he used MSU's smaller airplane to fly to his house in North Carolina.
The flights to North Carolina have cost MSU, which is reeling from serious accreditation problems, tens of thousands of dollars each year and at least $170,000 since 2007.
The Texas flights have cost the university more than $62,000.
The cost estimates are based on per-hour cost figures provided to The Wall Street Journal by aviation consulting firm Conklin & de Decker Aviation.
Polk's flights to his hometown in Texas and to his house in North Carolina were just a fraction of the hundreds of flights made on the university jet since January of 2007.
There were also 236 flights made to and from Beckley, where MSU's main campus is located. There were also 68 flights to and from Martinsburg, where MSU has a branch campus and more than 20 flights to and from Orlando, Fla., the site of another branch campus.
Polk is one of the most highly compensated university presidents in the country, earning more than $1.8 million in total compensation in 2009, according to a form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
MSU's two airplanes
Mountain State University purchased its 1974 Cessna 500 jet in 2001, according to FAA licensing records.
In an interview with the Gazette on Wednesday, Polk said MSU's board of trustees approved the purchase of the plane because MSU was "making a very strong commitment as a university to transcend the boundaries of West Virginia and be able to work the market share in other places."
MSU paid between $1 million and $1.5 million for the Cessna jet, said Polk, which he says the school received at a discounted rate.
The jet can hold seven passengers and is used to fly university faculty and staff to satellite campuses around the country, Polk said. The purpose of the plane is to save money on travel costs like hotels and dinners that would eat into the university budget, he said.
In addition to the university jet, MSU purchased a 2002 single-engine Cirrus Design Corp SR22 airplane in 2009 for about $200,000, Polk said.
The school decided to purchase a second airplane as "a more cost effective way to shuffle people back and forth between campuses than if we used the Cessna jet," according to Polk.
No public universities in West Virginia own private aircraft, said the Higher Education Policy Commission.
WVU leases a jet from an aviation company but does not own an airplane independently, said John Bolt, director of communications for WVU.
From July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011, WVU's leased plane made 127 individual flights, Bolt said. WVU President Jim Clements was on 68 of those flights.
"The plane's not used all that often," Bolt said. "The president or vice president uses it for travel to Charleston to go there for a meeting, but we just lease it when we have the need."
Flights to North Carolina
Since August, Polk has made 10 flights to and from the North Carolina airport near his home, according to the most recent FAA records.
"I can't tell you what the purpose of these flights are because I don't keep a record of that," Polk said on Wednesday. "Specifically, I can't address those flights."
All of MSU's flights are expensed to the university's operational budget, which is about $55 million this year, Polk said.
He said that while he does not personally keep track of the number of flights he takes, the plane's pilot, David Robbins, maintains detailed flight logs and passenger lists. Robbins is also the Director of Aviation at Mountain State's flight schools.
Polk denied taking more than 100 flights to Statesville, N.C., on the Cessna 500 jet, saying the FAA flight records logging those trips were in error. The FAA tracks the flights based on each aircraft's unique tail number.
He did say that he uses MSU's other plane, the Cirrus Design Corp SR22, to often fly to and from his North Carolina home -- an arrangement Polk said was approved by MSU's trustees.
"When we purchased the small plane, one of the reasons was so I could get to the campus much better," Polk said. "The Board of Trustees decided that the way to keep me here for much more time and cut down on travel time was to use the plane rather than drive three or four hours."
Polk purchased his home in Mooresville, N.C., for $395,000 in 2000, according to housing records. The residence is now worth $457,000.
That property is in addition to another 12-acre piece of land Polk purchased in 2008 worth more than $101,000, according to housing records. Polk said he hopes to build another home on the 12-acre lot in the future.
While Polk is given the option of living in the presidential accommodations on MSU's Beckley campus, Polk says he calls his Mooresville property home. Both Polk's wife and daughter live in North Carolina.
'A business purpose'
Roslyn Artis, executive vice president at MSU, said that staff and faculty at Mountain State do not have a "blank check" to charter the university planes for either personal or business use. She said the president's office must approve flights made on the jet and that the school tries to conserve costs whenever possible.
"If I'm going to take a team to Martinsburg and there are only two people are going to make that trip, that plane doesn't get off the ground," Artis said Wednesday. "We try to be cost efficient to fill that plane. All of our budget expenditures have to be justified."
While neither Polk nor Artis could personally provide the Gazette with records or details about all the flights made on both of the university planes, Polk said "every flight that was made has a business purpose."
Mountain State University has one of its four branch campuses in Mooresville, N.C., and conducts business in Texas, Polk said.
In addition to its main campus in Beckley, MSU maintains branch campuses in Martinsburg, Center Township, Pa., Mooresville, N.C., and Orlando, Fla., according to MSU's website. Programs are also offered at sites throughout West Virginia; in Hickory, N.C., and online.
MSU's Mooresville campus began offering classes in the fall of 2009 in a building about 15 minutes from Polk's home. The school leases half of the second floor and the entire third floor from a construction management and general contracting firm called Spectrum, said property owner Charlie Caputo.
The Mooresville campus has three full-time faculty members and enrolled 43 students this year, said MSU spokesman Andy Wessels.
Polk, however, has been taking the university jet to the Statesville, N.C., airport since at least February of 2007 -- two years before MSU officially opened up a Mooresville branch of the school.
Artis said it takes time to organize the launch of a new campus and that MSU had to "identify a space, had to train staff and interview and hire faculty -- all things that began "long before" the school begins enrolling students.
Polk has also used the university jet to fly to his hometown of Lufkin, Texas, in Angelina County. Birth records show that Polk was born on July 11, 1942, in Lufkin.
Since 2007, Polk has made at least 14 flights on the university jet to the Angelina County Texas Airport in Lufkin, the city where his mother still lives.
Polk said the flights to Lufkin have been for business purposes because MSU has employees in Texas and relationships with police and firefighters in Houston and Austin. MSU also holds graduations for students in Texas who take online leadership classes from MSU, he said.
Polk said MSU's planes land in Lufkin when MSU has business in Texas because the Angelina County airport has "cheap gas and no landing fee."
Jeff Price, airport manager, stands next to a Cessna 182 parked at Meriden Markham Airport Wednesday January 4, 2012. The city has taken over control of Meriden-Markham Airport after terminating its contract with its most recent operator last month.
MERIDEN - The city has taken control of Meriden-Markham Airport after terminating its contract with its most recent operator last month.
City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior said that Meriden Aviators, which signed a five-year contract with the city in June 2010, failed to meet several requirements set by the agreement, such as paying for snow removal.
"There were some issues with his performance," Kendzior said. "It was pretty clear he wasn't going to meet those benchmarks."
Finding a new operator for the 157-acre airport, which straddles the Wallingford border along Evansville Avenue, could prove difficult. Meriden Aviators was the only company to respond to a request for proposals from new operators in 2010.
For now, day-to-day operations will fall to a crew led by Ron Price, whose company, QED Airport and Aviation Consultants, was hired Dec. 1 to manage the airport on an interim basis.
Price said that the airport has been slow since the change of hands, mostly because the previous manager left a massive fuel tank empty, and took other amenities such as a flight school with him. The fuel tank is expected to be filled by mid-month, and companies have already begun issuing proposals for maintenance work and another flight academy.
"People have heard that the airport is without these services, and they are contacting us," he said.
Before 2010, the airport was operated by the same company for close to two decades. To have it turn over so quickly this time was disheartening, according to Price, especially since Meriden Aviators' owner Arian Prevalla appeared to have grand plans for it, including a proposed deal with a skydiving company that has likely been dashed.
"It's always disappointing when you go into a contract with someone in good faith and it doesn't work out," he said. "But it's not the end of the world."
Prevalla was also responsible for moving Connecticut Flight Academy from Brainard Airport in Hartford to Meriden, and had announced plans to develop an air-taxi service to nearby destinations like Martha's Vineyard or Montreal, although that never materialized.
On Tuesday, the City Council approved a $150,000 budget for the airport. It will have no impact on the city's operating budget or general fund, but will simply utilize the airport's own revenue to cover fuel, maintenance and other operating expenses.
Councilor Walter A. Shamock Jr. said he had little choice but to vote in favor of the budget, but urged Kendzior and Purchasing Director Wilma Petro to act quickly to find a new operator.
"I certainly don't want to be in the business of running an airport," he said.
Petro said she will take stock of revenue and expenses at the airport over the next three to six months before accepting proposals from new operators. It will likely take close to a year before a new company can take over, and it could be even longer before a viable entity can be found.
"It's difficult, in my view, to attract a qualified and sufficiently capitalized operator for such a small airport," said Price. "We don't want a repeat of what just happened."