A House committee explored Monday the acquisition of a seven-passenger Cessna Citation CJ4 by The University of Kansas to provide private flights for athletic, medical and administrative personnel.
KU acquired the Citation in December with contributions to the KU Endowment Association. The university also owns fractional ownership in a second plane.
Operation of the university’s aircraft consumes $1.5 million in state funding annually, a revelation that inspired an inquiry by the House Education Budget Committee. Members of the committee expressed interest in finding a new source of money — tuition revenue was suggested — to cover the operational costs.
Many of the university’s flights are related to KU Medical Center outreach responsibilities, including direct services to patients. One of the frequent fliers is basketball coach Bill Self. He logged 118 flights since 2009 at a cost of more than $1 million.
In testimony to the House panel, KU Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger said basketball was competitively and financially the department’s “tip of the spear.” He said Self would be hampered in recruiting against Kentucky, Duke and other powerhouse programs without access to the private jet.
“The university aircraft is an incredible tool,” Zenger said.
Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, said he appreciated the potential benefit of small aircraft to a big university. He also understood the state had a projected deficit of $600 million in the upcoming fiscal year and suggested KU identify an alternative to the state’s $1.5 million for operation of aircraft.
Zenger said he would prefer the athletic department reimburse the university for flights taken by sports staff, but Federal Aviation Administration policy stood in the way of a simple transaction.
Theresa Gordzica, chief business and financial planning officer at the university, said KU wasn’t allowed to charge the athletic department for flight services because that would make the university a charter operator. Such an arrangement would add complexity to KU’s management of the aircraft, she said.
The Cessna CJ4 transaction involved trading away the university’s 1997 Cessna Citation Bravo and the financial commitment from the endowment association.
No other university in the Kansas Board of Regents system owns aircraft used for administrative purposes. Kansas State University’s aviation campus in Salina has a fleet of small planes for training pilots.