During the interim between the 2011 legislative session and the current one it seemed legislators were ready to crack down on the abuse of private airplanes by the university system. Legislators chastised NDSU for overspending on the plane they own for the use of university officials, noting that the university (which, ironically enough, has largely used the plane to fly to Bismarck to gripe to legislators about being underfunded) could have spent about 400% less by simply chartering flights when needed.
So it was disappointing to see a bill pre-filed before the current legislation system which created a management system for state aircraft, providing more transparency and oversight, but exempting the entirety of the university system from it.
Thankfully that bill, HB1033, has been amended by Rep. Dan Ruby to exempt only the UND aviation school from oversight. The amended version of the bill would also still allow state officials, including those in the university system, to have access to state aircraft. Here’s the pertinent language:
Upon request, the department of transportation shall provide air transportation services to other state agencies. Each agency using air transportation services from the department shall pay a user charge determined by the department of transportation which must be based upon the actual cost of operating the aircraft. The department shall give priority to requests for air transportation services from the attorney general’s office when the request is for law enforcement purposes. The director of the department of transportation shall allow employees of other state agencies to operate the department’s airplanes for official purposes if the employee is properly licensed and has the proper rating and type endorsement to operate the requested airplane.
This seems like a decent compromise to me, and indeed it has been given a “do pass” recommendation by the House Transportation Committee by a 10 – 1 vote (3 absent).
The impact will be that NDSU must get rid of the airplane, unless they manage to get a specific authorization for it from the legislature, which seems unlikely.
The university system and its apologists have boldly defended NDSU’s airplane. In simultaneously-published editorials earlier this month both the Grand Forks Herald and the Fargo Forum defended the airplane. But it seems that, despite this flexing of university and media muscle, the legislature is intent on exercising oversight in this area.
Which, after years of abuse, is much needed.