Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2000

Missouri crash puts spotlight on Kansas plane

October 19, 2000


— The aging plane that Gov. Bill Graves and other officials use to fly around Kansas probably will need an overhaul of its twin engines within the next 18 months.

Such an overhaul would cost the state at least $500,000, and for months, officials in the Graves administration have considered whether the plane should be replaced.

Those internal discussions became public after the death of Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan in an airplane crash. Carnahan was flying in a 20-year-old airplane registered to his son's law firm.

Officials in Kansans weren't suggesting that the plane Graves and others use for state business is unsafe. However, it is 15 years old.

"When a tragedy like this happens, it raises questions," said Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer, who serves as secretary of commerce and housing and estimates that he uses the plane between 30 and 40 times a year.

Carnahan was traveling Monday night in a 1980 Cessna 335, which seats six and has two piston-driven engines. The plane had no history of maintenance problems, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Likewise, in its 15-year life, no reports of accidents or unusual incidents involving the Kansas aircraft have been reported to the FAA. Nor have there been any reports of service difficulties, which often cover minor maintenance problems, said Roland Herwig, an FAA spokesman in Oklahoma City.

"It has a clean record," he said.

The Kansas state plane is a 1985 Beechcraft Super King Air 300, which seats nine passengers and two pilots. It has two turbojet propeller engines.

Secretary of Administration Dan Stanley noted that the Beechcraft has logged about 3,200 hours of flying time. When it logs 3,700 hours, the FAA requires its engines to be overhauled.

Stanley expects an overhaul to come due during the state's 2002 budget year, which begins July 1, 2001, making the plane a budget issue for the Legislature after it convenes in January.

"The governor has not come to any final decision," said Graves' spokesman Don Brown. "Events in Missouri would probably be cause for reflecting on that, when you consider what's at stake when a governor gets on an aircraft."

Brown said the airplane's future has been a "significant and high priority" for months.

"Probably the difference now is the public awareness and the media interest," he said.

The state purchased the plane in 1986 at the urging of then-Gov. John Carlin.

Sherrer said he's confident in the safety of the present plane and the state's maintenance and pilots. He plans to use it next week for a trip to Goodland, Garden City and Dodge City.

"Until the pilots tell me it's not safe anymore, I'll keep getting on it and going," Sherrer said.

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