Bill would buy state a $1.9M private jet
A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday on the proposal introduced by Sen. Hanabusa
CORPORATE bigwigs have them; so do golfer Tiger Woods, who has a demanding travel schedule, and actor John Travolta, a licensed pilot.
Now state lawmakers are deciding whether the governor and other top government officials should bypass commercial airline s and fly on a private state plane.
A bill to be considered by the Legislature would set aside $1.9 million in taxpayer money for the state to buy an aircraft for official business.
State Sen. J. Kalani English, chairman of the transportation committee, said he will hold a hearing on Senate Bill 1977 Wednesday to see whether buying a plane would save the state money.
As a neighbor island senator, he said he understands the hardships and costs of travel.
The bill, which notes that many other states already own aircraft, calls for the state Department of Transportation to buy and maintain the plane "to be used by the governor, state executives, and other officers" for state business and disaster relief purposes.
"Given the state of Hawaii's location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at some distance from mainland states, a state-owned aircraft would be particularly useful and economical," it reads.
English said he put the bill on Wednesday's agenda because he thought it was part of the Lingle administration's legislative package.
But Linda Smith, Lingle's senior policy adviser, said the bill is not from the governor's office.
COURTESY OF THE ALASKA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE
The state of Alaska is putting its 23-year-old jet up for auction on eBay for some $2.5 million. A bill moving through the Hawaii Legislature would set aside $1.9 million in taxpayer money for the state to buy an aircraft for official business. CLICK FOR LARGE
Scott Ishikawa, spokesman for the transportation department, said his department has nothing to do with the bill.
"We are probably going to testify against this bill," he said. During the rains last March when the Kaloko dam failed on Kauai, he simply boarded a Hawaiian Airlines flight to check the situation on that island.
SB1977 was introduced by Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, by request. Hanabusa said someone approached her to introduce the bill at the last minute, but she couldn't remember whether it was forwarded to her office by a fellow lawmaker or a constituent.
"Right now, I'm not in my office so I can't tell you who asked me to introduce the bill. It's not a bill that I came up with," Hanabusa said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Hanabusa said Wednesday's hearing should be interesting. She recalled a similar discussion when she was Judiciary Committee chairwoman several years ago and a bill to buy a plane to transport prisoners came up.
"The state does spend a lot of money in terms of travel costs," Hanabusa said. "But the question is going to be whether the additional costs, of course, the maintenance and the personnel cost and so forth, how that all becomes justified."
Wallace Frelander, president of the Aircraft Management Group Inc., said a private plane can be more economical than flying commercial, even in an era of low interisland airfares.
A twin-engine, propellor-driven Cessna Caravan is within the bill's $1.9 million budget, Frelander said. It travels fast, can carry as many as 12 people and would cost the state about $250 per flight hour -- maintenance and gas expenses included.
"I think that's not a bad deal," said Frelander, whose company sells and leases airplanes. "If they are going to buy a plane, that's what I would recommend. It would be the least burden to the taxpayers, but yet getting the most bang for the buck."
The mainland is out of the travel range of the Caravan, according to a Cessna Web site.
But the state might also be able to bid on the Alaska governor's jet. It's going on sale on eBay tomorrow.
Gov. Sarah Palin used the jet as a campaign issue in her successful run against former Gov. Frank Murkowski and has vowed never to fly in it.
It's the fourth time Alaska has tried to sell the Westwind II on eBay. The last attempt fetched a bid of $1.7 million. Alaska bought the 23-year-old jet for $2.7 million.