Dayton wants $10M to replace state planes

Published 9:57 am Wednesday, February 11, 2015

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton is asking the Legislature for $10 million from the state treasury to replace Minnesota’s two state-owned airplanes because of the aircraft’s advancing age.

Mark Dayton

Mark Dayton

At a recent budget presentation, Dayton said the Beechcraft King Air prop planes are “reaching the end of their safe operations.” One plane is from 1981 and the other is from 1993.

“Since my body is one of the ones hanging up in the air there I have a personal investment, but I also have a philosophical belief that people who dedicate their lives to serving the people of Minnesota should not be required to sacrifice those lives because of dysfunctional or inadequate equipment,” Dayton said

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Dayton’s request to replace the planes comes as Republicans are using their new House majority to scrutinize spending by the DFL governor for items outside the core services that state government delivers.

Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, has been a leading critic of pay hikes Dayton granted to his commissioners. But Anderson said she is willing to hear arguments for why new planes are needed.

“My big concern is that with transportation being such a large part of our conversation this year at the Capitol, that it has to be measured against the need to fix our roads and bridges,” Anderson said. “There might be some things that would be nice to have, but we have to look at how we prioritize spending overall.”

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has saved money on travel costs for employees across state government by using the planes, said Cassandra Isackson, director of MnDOT’s Office of Aeronautics. A plane can get to Bemidji and back in two hours, rather than the eight hours required by car, she said, saving hotel costs and work hours lost to driving.

The planes — an eight-seat King Air B200 and a six-seat King Air C90 — fly an average of three to five times a week, usually carrying employees from multiple agencies.

MnDOT officials say the two planes are growing more costly to maintain as they age. Unlike newer airplanes that are outfitted with sophisticated computer imaging and other technological advances, the aged Beechcraft consoles are covered in dials, meters and switches.

Jeff Flynn, MnDOT’s chief pilot, said the equipment on new planes helps enhance a pilot’s “situational awareness” — that is, “everything that’s going on around you, in your flight path and with your aircraft.”

Flynn said the Beechcraft planes are not unsafe. “But they’re less safe,” he said.