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Lawmakers eye state aircraft for savings

Posted April 29, 2010

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— In an effort to close an $800 million budget shortfall, North Carolina lawmakers are looking everywhere for savings, including up in the air.

The state spends $10.8 million annually to own and operate 52 planes and 30 helicopters for transporting officials, assisting law enforcement and keeping watch over state forests.

Highway Patrol Helicopter State agencies don't want to give up aircraft

The General Assembly's watchdog agency, the Program Evaluation Division, recommended Thursday that the state sell 25 of the aircraft and using others for spare parts. Officials said the move would generate $8.1 million in revenue and save $1.5 million in operating costs annually.

The Program Evaluation Division found that 57 of the 72 aircraft are flown less than 200 hours a year, and eight never left the ground in the 2008-09 fiscal year. An industry standard is that aircraft are cost-effective only if they are flown at least 200 hours annually, officials said.

Officials said five hangars also could be eliminated to save another $26,000 a year.

Various agencies disagreed with the recommendation.

Division of Forest Resources officials said giving up planes would adversely impact their readiness in case of a fire, and State Bureau of Investigation director Robin Pendergraft said her agency cannot afford to lose a plane used to transport prisoners.

"With all of the regulations in place federally, officers find it more difficult to fly armed, and they can't go pick up prisoners without weapons," Pendergraft said. "We're (also) not allowed to handcuff people on commercial planes. I don't know about you, but I don't want my daughter flying next to a criminal that's not handcuffed."

The Program Evaluation Division also recommended creating a group within the state Department of Transportation to better coordinate the use and maintenance of state-owned aircraft.

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  • dmarion2 Apr 30, 2010

    All this ruckus about less than $10 million? That's a relative drop in the bucket! If you (and the media) looked at some of the other recent PED reports, there are other areas of concern that have impacts in the hundreds of millions of dollars. How about reporting about those?

    Even so, the idea of a central state aircraft management agency that maintains the aircraft and provides them with appropriate crews on an as-needed basis to most of the various NC agencies now operating their own dedicated aircraft sounds like a good idea to me - except in the case of specialized missions like law enforcement and forest fire fighting.

    For general "business" travel on behalf of the state, aircraft can be an efficient way to multi-task and save time, but that doesn't mean that every state agency needs to have their own dedicated full-time airplane.

  • mpheels Apr 30, 2010

    I understand the need for air transport for prisoners if it would take more than 8 hours to drive, so as to avoid paying overtime, subsistence, and lodging for the escort(s) and to get around the complications of finding appropriate lodging for a prisoner in transit. But, how often does the state need to transport a prisoner to/from that far away? I doubt it requires a dedicated aircraft...

  • zwm02 Apr 30, 2010

    Hey, Pendergraft- Drive them!

  • ContinuityMan Apr 30, 2010

    Fifty-two airplanes? That's enough to start a regional airline.

  • josephlawrence43 Apr 29, 2010

    Shucks--I thought everybody needed to have their own air force...

  • CarZin Apr 29, 2010

    One of the biggest wastes is the NC Motor Pool. To give you an idea of what my department went through. We had a 90s something Plymouth Sundance. We paid the state over 70,000 for that vehicle over its life span. When we wanted to trade it in, they said we didnt drive it enough to get a new one (this car had more rust than paint, and we probably drive it 20 miles a week). We appealed, and are now paying over $200 a month for a Ford Contour that has 90k miles on it. They wouldnt allow us to buy a vehicle (state rules for most departments dont allow buying anything other than a van, otherwise you must go through motor pool).

  • skinnyCat Apr 29, 2010

    I hope the state doesn't think the planes are worth anything. That market has been completely decimated. They are in for a surprise.

  • John Sawtooth Apr 29, 2010

    Legit uses of aircraft are for law enforcement (patrol and surveillance, emergency management and emergency services), for priority transport of A FEW top govermnent people (emergency operations and occasional urgent travel). Forest management is also a smart role for aircraft, probably as a shared resource.

    Prisoner movement is a unique issue I hadn't heard of before. A sensible balance between air travel and ground transport should be written out. Obviously felons don't stay at Days Inn during a long bus trip, so a plane makes sense for those tasks.

    However, most of our VIP travel can simple go away. Fly commecial, and fly economy class, Mr. Secretary.

    In some cases these aircraft could remain NC assets and be lease-back arrangements with appropriate agencies who also have tight budgets. Selling the asset and then leasing one is NOT always the cheaper option, not by a long shot.

  • UNCfuturealumi Apr 29, 2010

    This is the biggest waste in state spending of all I have read. Our kids are riding in school buses without seat belts. keep one jet for emergency use and let Bev ride on the back of a horse or in her own vehicle if she needs to take a vacation.

  • Ready2Taxi Apr 29, 2010

    Maybe the state could sell a few executive planes and get some rich campaign donors to volunteer to fly Bev and the CoS around? Just sayin...

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