Arkansas State Plane Needs Major Work

A spokesman for the Arkansas State Police said Thursday that the airplane used to transport the governor needs much work or the Federal Aviation Administration will ground it.

That's why Gov. Mike Beebe has recommended as part of his capital projects requests that the state set aside $4 million to buy a new plane or fix the existing one, state police spokesman Bill Sadler said.

"Both engines have in excess of 2,900 hours, and there's approximately 75 hours of flight time remaining before the aircraft will be grounded by the FAA," Sadler said.

He said the state police estimate that it will cost $750,000 to $800,000 to fix it.

"There are no known problems which would make the aircraft unsafe, however the FAA regulations specify a precise number of hours the engines can be flown before they must be torn down, overhauled to original specifications and reinstalled," Sadler said. "Presently the aircraft meets all FAA requirements." Sadler said the state police will work with the General Assembly and the governor's office to determine "the most cost-efficient means of meeting our mission needs" in deciding whether to repair the plane or replace it. Beebe has used the plane five times since he became governor on Jan. 9. He has flown to Jonesboro, Warren, El Dorado, Osceola and Fort Smith.

The plane is a Beechcraft King Air 200 turboprop twinengine. It's a 10-seat 1982 model that cost the state $1.4 million in 1997.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee flew more than 1,500 hours on the plane, costing taxpayers nearly $600,000, including flying to political functions such as the 2004 Republican National Convention, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette analysis last year of the plane's flight records.

Sadler said the state police don't keep track of how often the plane is used for the governor as compared with other state agencies.

"Gov. Huckabee used the airplane a lot, but we don't have in ready form a report that will show a comparison of flight hours by state agency, office or department," he said.

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Beebe will leave it up to the state police to decide on the "most fiscally responsible solution for the short and long term" regarding whether to fix or replace the plane.

During his campaign last year, Beebe said he would reimburse the state for personal or political use of the plane and would work with the Legislative Audit Division on a way to differentiate state use from other usage.

DeCample said Beebe hasn't figured out how to do that yet.

"If the governor were to use the state plane for personal or political use he would reimburse the state at an appropriate rate," DeCample said. "However at present he has no plans to use the state airplane for any political use or personal use."

This article was published 02/23/2007

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