Saturday, June 05, 2021

Governor Kristi Noem quest for a potentially newer plane would also downsize South Dakota central fleet

PIERRE, South Dakota (KELO) — The deal that South Dakota’s current governor is trying to swing for a different aircraft also calls for reducing state government’s executive fleet to two planes from the current three.

The state Department of Transportation has hired a consultant to handle the sale of the eight-seat King Air B200 that Governor Kristi Noem frequently uses.

It is a 1988 model that state government purchased in 1994, a year after the crash that killed Governor George S. Mickelson and seven others.

Mickelson was returning from a trip to Ohio when the Mitsubishi MU-2 lost a propeller blade and crashed in Iowa on April 19, 1993, killing all aboard.

Four other governors — Walter Dale Miller, Bill Janklow, Mike Rounds and Dennis Daugaard — have since used the King Air B200 before Noem.

Also being put up for sale by Noem is a seven-seat King Air 90II. State government got the 1999 model in 2007.

State government would still have a second King Air 90. It is a 1995 model obtained in 2004.

The consultant, Verity Jet Group, has a state contract worth up to $195,000 to advise on the sale of the two planes and to assist in the purchase of a different aircraft that the governor would use.

This isn’t the first time state government has done business with the company. State records show Verity Jet Group was paid $7,500 on March 25, 2020, for three $2,500 expenses that were submitted two weeks before.

The value of the two aircraft being offered for sale isn’t publicly known at this point. Noem also has $5 million available that the Legislature gave her this year.

It’s unclear why the Noem administration wants one plane less than state government currently has. Neither the governor’s spokesman nor the state Department of Transportation’s strategic communication coordinator responded to the question that was asked several times in recent days.

Verity Jet Group, based in suburban Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Wichita, Kansas, was one of three companies that responded to a December request for proposals. The others were Elliott Jets of Milan, Illinois, and Exclusive Aircraft Sales of Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

“The consultant is currently in the process of analyzing and making recommendations to the state for both the purchase of a new plane and the sale related to current planes. In regard to the timetable, it will really depend upon the time needed to ensure that the state’s needs are being met. The final decision will be made by the Governor’s Office in consultation with the SDDOT,” the department’s Julie Stevenson said.

Does that mean the governor will be a passenger trying out a different plane before a decision is reached? “Governor Noem has no plans to participate in any test flights,” spokesman Ian Fury said.

The House Appropriations Committee on February 4 introduced HB 1282 that, in its original form, would have appropriated $5 million to the state Department of Transportation “for the purpose of purchasing a new state airplane to be used for official state business.”

The legislation was later amended down to $1 and Representative John Mills had an amendment pending that would have given appropriators the final review and approval.

Instead, $5 million was added to the Department of Transportation budget through an amendment to Senate Bill 64 that lawmakers passed on March 11. State Transportation Secretary Joel Jundt signed the contract for Verity Jet Group on March 12.

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