LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman argued Monday for buying a new state airplane that he could use as he continues to visit rural parts of Nebraska.
The governor commented after the Appropriations Committee made a tentative decision not to include $2.2 million to buy a plane from the University of Nebraska Foundation.
“This is about having access to the governor for every citizen of the state of Nebraska,” Heineman said. “I just hope the Omaha and Lincoln senators understand there’s more to Nebraska than just this corridor between Omaha and Lincoln.”
State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, the Appropriations Committee chairman, called the governor’s comments about committee members “disappointing.”
He said there was never any intent to ground the governor.
Rather, committee members were not convinced that buying the foundation’s 12-year-old Beechcraft Super King Air B200 turboprop makes the most sense for the state.
“Air travel will continue in Nebraska for this governor and governors to come,” Mello said. “The issue at hand is purely a matter of convenience.”
He said Heineman has several options for air travel, including chartering aircraft or using the state’s other passenger plane, a 1982 Piper Cheyenne.
While charters require advance scheduling, they are used in other geographically large states, Mello said. The Nebraska Department of Aeronautics has $700,000 in its budget that could be used to charter air travel.
Heineman said a state-owned plane would be more cost-effective than chartering.
He cited cost comparisons done by state aeronautics officials that showed the cost of a round trip between Lincoln and Kearney would be $1,530 in the King Air 200 compared with $2,924 for a King Air 90 chartered plane from Silverhawk Aviation.
For a round trip from Lincoln to Scottsbluff, the cost would be $4,204 in the King Air 200 compared with $6,025 in the Silverhawk charter.
Mello said the majority of committee members were skeptical. The state could pay for many chartered flights, even at higher costs, for the cost of buying and maintaining the King Air 200.
“A plane is not an inexpensive vehicle to take care of,” he said.
Mello said the Appropriations Committee had asked aeronautics officials for an independent comparison of the state’s options; the study was not done.
The state’s lease-purchase agreement on the King Air 200 expires June 30.
After that, if the state does not choose to buy the plane, the foundation will look for another buyer, according to foundation spokeswoman Dorothy Endacott.
Heineman and state agencies currently lease the King Air 200 for trips around the state. Although owned by the foundation, the aircraft is flown and maintained by the Aeronautics Department.
State Aeronautics Director Ronnie Mitchell said the Cheyenne was often grounded for maintenance and repair. Finding parts for the plane can take months. State officials have said they would sell the Cheyenne if they purchased the King Air.