Archive for Sunday, November 4, 2007

KU defends blocking flight info

University plane can’t be tracked in real time for ‘security’ reasons

A Kansas University aircraft rests in its hangar at Lawrence Municipal Airport.

A Kansas University aircraft rests in its hangar at Lawrence Municipal Airport.

November 4, 2007


Tracking KU's private planes

Explore the 876 flights made by KU's private airplanes between January 2006 and October 2007.

Tracking flights live on the Internet has become a popular pastime for many for both professional and personal reasons.

But don't try to track Kansas University's business jet as it transports staff around the country, sends coaches on recruiting visits, fetches people for events on campus or dispatches doctors across the state to help in small communities.

In January, KU started blocking information about flights taken by its Cessna Citation Bravo based at Lawrence Municipal Airport.

Todd Cohen, a spokesman for KU, said the move was made for security reasons.

"It is fairly common, for security, to not let the whole world know where your plane is going," Cohen said.

But Gov. Kathleen Sebelius doesn't block her flight information.

"Our schedulers or security get on the flight tracking system and track the state plane regularly when needed," said Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran.

Before a jet takes off, the pilot files a flight plan with the Federal Aviation Administration. A number of Web sites track these flights as they are occurring.

But federal law allows entities to block this information by making what is called a Block Aircraft Registration Request or BARR through the National Business Aviation Association.

"In the business community, some of the flights carry competitive and/or security concerns," said Dan Hubbard, a spokesman for the NBAA, which does this blocking service. "There may be a reason why the party making the flight feels the flight should not be understood in real time."

Universities sometimes use this service because they don't want other schools to know about trips they take to recruit athletes or faculty, or for security reasons, if they are transporting a controversial speaker.

Sometimes the flight is for government-funded research that the government would like to keep under wraps.

KU's Cessna Citation Bravo, which seats about eight, is used by officials at both the Lawrence campus and the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. That jet's flight information is blocked.

KU also has a fractional ownership of a King Air C-90B, which seats about six passengers. That plane is based in Kansas City, Mo., and is used primarily for medical outreach reasons, such as providing continuing education programs for medical professionals throughout the state. That plane is part of a fleet which has not filed a request to block flight information, according to Cohen.

Kansas State University also blocks its flight information from the tracking networks for the two aircraft used for university business travel.

Dennis Kuhlman, dean of K-State-Salina, said the information is blocked for security reasons and was enacted as a protocol after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11.

"Part of that response was to make sure that we do not make available where the aircraft is going. That helps protect the university and the people who are on those planes," Kuhlman said.

K-State also has 40 additional aircraft that it uses to teach piloting, maintenance and engineering. But these planes are not blocked since they are usually used only for training, he said.

Jayhawk fliers

Although KU blocks the Citation's flight information as it is flying, information about who has flown and where is available later and can be received by filing a request under the Kansas Open Records Act. The university charges a retrieval fee of $31.50 per hour to gather the records.

The most frequent fliers on KU's Cessna Citation Bravo include top executives at KU, such as Chancellor Robert Hemenway and Provost Richard Lariviere, and Athletic Director Lew Perkins and men's basketball Coach Bill Self.

For example, in October, Hemenway and Perkins flew on an Executive Air Shares flight from Lawrence to Manhattan on the day of KU-K-State football game, according to KU's records.

Self used the Citation Oct. 5-6 to go to Colorado Springs. Lariviere and his assistant Liliana Merubia flew to Wichita and back on Oct. 4. Lariviere spoke at a trade conference on India, and Merubia made a recruitment visit to a high school.

According to records provided by KU, on Oct. 11, the Citation picked up former KU football player John Riggins in Washington, D.C., to bring him back to Lawrence for his induction to the Ring of Honor. It then took Riggins and his family back to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey on Oct. 14.

On Oct. 20, the day the KU football team was playing Colorado in Boulder, Colo., the jet was used to pick up Perkins, associate athletic directors Sean Lester and Brandon MacNeil and Jerry Bailey, who is KU's faculty representative to Kansas Athletics Inc.

Officials from the KU Alumni Association also use the KU jet on occasion for the Kansas Honors Program, which recognizes high school students who are in the top 10 percent of their class.

On Oct. 3, a group of alumni association leaders, KU officials and some KU students hit Salina and Hutchinson to honor top-level students in those towns.

According to KU, the school spends nearly $700,000 per year to keep its aircraft going. This includes salary and benefits for three pilots and a scheduler ($320,436); jet maintenance ($154,575); the fixed cost of the fractional ownership ($151,597); pilot training ($34,000) and insurance ($25,000).


cowboy 7 years, 5 months ago

Perkins Air , too cool to fly with the team , must fly on personal jet , waste of taxpayers money , no wonder they want that info blocked

clyde_never_barks 7 years, 5 months ago

Maybe they could have used this jet for the "fly over" at Saturday's game.

aeroscout17 7 years, 5 months ago

Security my butt. How about unauthorized expenditures? Just my guess. If the governor doesn't block her flights, why would KU think they have a bigger threat? Not that I really care about this issue but guess I am bored this morning!

clyde_never_barks 7 years, 5 months ago

If you are offended, stop giving to the Endowment Association. They pay for many of the flights...not the state, not taxpayers.

justthefacts 7 years, 5 months ago

Apparently they DO make all the information available (under the Kansas Open Records Act all recorded information possessed by a public agency is presumed open and available) but not until AFTER the flights take place.

KS 7 years, 5 months ago

This is a non-story. It is none of our business.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

So what "class" do (certain) state employees belong to, Pilgrim?

stbaker 7 years, 5 months ago

The figures quoted in the article for operating the jet seem very reasonable to me. If you were to look at booking commercial flights for all of these people, or driving, when you factor in productivity being lost in travel time, overnights in hotels due to travel fatigue, the purchase and maintenance of more KU vehicles to accomodate everyone who would now be using vehicles concurrently, etc., it would probably be a wash. So what if they don't make flight tracking live available. I agree with KS. This is a non-story.

not_dolph 7 years, 5 months ago

justthefacts - just what would you do with the information "during the flight" - I'm not sure what your point is. They have run stories similar to this in the past with regard to jet usage and cost.

jumpin_catfish 7 years, 5 months ago

KU is a state school with accountability to the citizens of Kansas. If the governor doesn't block her flight info why is it such a big deal for the KU plane to be tracked. Smells a little fishy to me but I could be wrong it may be a non story as stated by KS.

nobody1793 7 years, 5 months ago

I am so sick of the LJW's "you provide the pictures, I'll provide the war" mentality.

DonnieDarko 7 years, 5 months ago

It's just Dolph getting desperate. No one will pay attention to his bi-weekly alarmist op-ed pieces about the KUMC/St. Luke's affiliation, so he's once again trying to create a story about KU where none exists. Someone at KU must have recently piddled on Dolph's shoes, and by god...he's not gonna take it! He's the editor of the URINAL WORLD, for gawd's sake!

jayhawks71 7 years, 5 months ago

At first I thought, "what is there to hide?" then, once you see that there is nothing expressly being hidden, this becomes a non-story. (To be honest, I am surprised that you can randomly track flight paths of commercial airliners.) The trips and the costs associated with the trips are available to the public. I think it is in bad taste (for the trips the taxpayers DO pay for) to charge $31.50 an hour for that information; the taxpayers are already paying for it. You mean to tell me that there isn't a log somewhere that keeps track of all that information for budgeting purposes? It is already done and should be made available via the open records act for no more than the cost it takes to photocopy (or better yet, make a digital copy) the materials. I also agree with those who posted about the ancillary costs regarding hotel stays and commercial flights that would be incurred. It may seem like a luxury (and it would be, outside of business) to have access to a plane, but that is the cost of doing business, even for state funded institutions (why doesn't the governor fly coach?...imagine the cost of getting a ticket for every member of a security detail... imagine being on that plane, delayed for an hour or more because of a "high-value target.").

Doug Fisher 7 years, 5 months ago

Considering the fact that I work for an FBO at a general aviation airport, we have lots of planes that come in without tail numbers to track and sometimes it's hard to give them timely line service when they show up unannounced without any way of tracking it. But given the post 9/11 times we live in I can understand.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

Believe or not, I agree with you, DotsLines.

There is a huge difference between being able to access this information instantly, on-line and for free, and having to go through the hassle, delay and expense of an FOIA request.

A follow-up article from the JW needs to explore what the alternatives would be. How expensive is it to fly five people to W. Kansas vs. the costs of their driving there? How essential is it that they save a half dozen or so hours of drive time? What is so pressing in the Chancellor's schedule that he can't drive (or be driven) to Manhattan?

hip_gma 7 years, 5 months ago

Looks like the med center is the primary user. Why doesn't LJW focus more on that? Maybe because it's too positive a story and they have to hold on to their image of writing negative stories.

Scott Tichenor 7 years, 5 months ago

And why exactly would we need to track flights in real time? Because it can be done? Looks like another LJW bitching session against KU to me, something they seem to be obsessed with.

Haiku_Cuckoo 7 years, 5 months ago

It's funny that some of the posters who are angry that they can't get access to the jet's flight information are the same people who are angry that Bushco is too intrusive on the privacy of US citizens. Can you say "hypocrite"? I thought you could. This is pure comedy. Please keep the funnies coming!!

compmd 7 years, 5 months ago

"(look at the other story in today's paper, it cost them about $1M to buy a half-interest in an 8 year old plane,"

I don't know what story that is, but the King Air is 25 years old. The Citation is 10 years old.

Blocking is kind of silly if they think that it will hide where they are going...maybe the administrators arent' so bright. When filing an IFR flight plan the destination airport will be listed, just the aircraft will be blocked. If you want to know where the Citation is going, and you see it at the airport, just go inside the terminal to the flight tracking and weather computer, and look for IFR flights out of Lawrence. Correlate the expected departure time, and bingo, you have deduced where the jet is going. See? Not too hard.

I know the Citation flies a LOT and the King Air gets a good amount of hours in also. As a member of the aerospace and aviation community, I think it is stupid for the university to be putting up roadblocks to public information.

"And why exactly would we need to track flights in real time? Because it can be done?"

No, because some of us actually use it to see how a flight is progressing and when it will arrive at its destination. When I need to pick up someone from the airport, I punch in their tail number to see how long it will take them to get there so I can meet them at the appropriate time.

Also, the name of the airport is incorrect in the caption of the photograph. It is Lawrence Municipal Airport, not Lawrence Memorial Airport.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

"It's funny that some of the posters who are angry that they can't get access to the jet's flight information are the same people who are angry that Bushco is too intrusive on the privacy of US citizen"

Apples and oranges. This is about access to and use of very expensive, and very expensive to operate, state property. It should never be for private use, which means that tracking where it is going can never be an intrusion of privacy.

compmd 7 years, 5 months ago

DotsLines, thanks. I guess its been too long since I've been out to the yellow hangar. Too bad the old C-90 had to go.

Hoots 7 years, 5 months ago

posessionannex hit the nail SMACK on the head. They don't include fuel cost which is the biggest expense in operating an aircraft like this. It is the airlines biggest outlay every year. I don't see the sense in flying a jet to a game that can be reached by car in an hour and a half...that is waste at it's best. I know a guy that use to work that program and he told me evey Tom, Dick, and Nancy was trying to use that aircraft. Fly from here to Manhattan...Give me a break.

dinglesmith 7 years, 5 months ago

"Sometimes the flight is for government-funded research that the government would like to keep under wraps."

Absolutely false. First, KU cannot currently participate in classified research or any research that requires secret activities such as this. Second, the KU airplanes are run by the endowment association and cannot paid for using federal grants. So, either someone lied to the reporter or the reporter is making stuff up...

If you fill the plane it is cheaper than taking traditional commercial airlines. Plus, what are frequently two day trips turn into one day, avoiding the cost of hotels. It's too bad researchers aren't allowed to use them more. The idea that the money saved by getting rid of the planes would go to pay other costs at KU is naive. Endowments don't work that way at all.

compmd 7 years, 5 months ago

"First, KU cannot currently participate in classified research"

I think they may have loosened that up. I know of one research project that is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Only US citizens are permitted to enter the lab when work on that project is being performed. "Classified" is a very broad term and should be used carefully.

Otherwise, dinglesmith, you are right on about everything else.

pa, fuel is a big expense. Interestingly, Lawrence is one of the more expensive airports around to purchase fuel. I avoid buying gas in Lawrence, I can get it for $1.20/gal less in Missouri or southern Illinois, or 80 cents less at some rural Kansas airports.

compmd 7 years, 5 months ago

"If another school can look at where your coaches are flying in real time, they can use that information to competitively recruit"

That's all well and good, but its really obvious if you look on the aircraft activity log for KLWC, there is usually nobody else that blocks their flight info. Besides, with flight trackers, there is no way to know who is on the airplane. I doubt the LJW is able to obtain that information in realtime on their flight tracker.

Tell you what, next time I fly out of Lawrence, I'm going to block my flight. With any luck, I will cause some other school to think KU is going on a recruiting trip and will totally screw up their basketball team.

jayhawks71 7 years, 5 months ago

compmd, when have you been asked to pick someone up arriving on KU's airplane? You don't need to know when their plane lands, you won't be called for livery service.

jayhawks71 7 years, 5 months ago

Haiku, while I don't hold the view that you suggest, your points are comparing apples and oranges. CITIZENS wanting access to information about the doings of a publicly funded (read:government) institution is very different than the government poking its nose into the private doings of its citizens.

ralphralph 7 years, 5 months ago

Class envy? Nope. Just that it's my money paying for these yay-hoos to live it up. Smells bad.

compmd 7 years, 5 months ago


1) Reread my post. I said nothing about picking up someone on one of KU's aircraft. I pick up and drop off people at least three times a months at the Lawrence Airport. And if someone is stopping at Lawrence to pick me up, I can use the flight tracking and weather computer in the terminal to see where they are and know when to expect their arrival. 2) How would you know that I don't deal with people who fly on the KU aircraft anyway? You don't know who I am, who I work for, what my affiliation to the university is, or why I know so much about university flight operations and aviation.

badger 7 years, 5 months ago

I don't think KU is 'hiding' some big secret.

I do think it's kind of arrogant to say that the athletic department of a state school in a medium-sized Midwestern town has more pressing need for security than the state's governor. I mean, if you want to hide what you're doing, I'm sure there's lots of fine reasons to do so. But chalking it up to security in a post-9/11 world? That's just ludicrous. I'm pretty sure tracking the movement of basketball coaches' flights to Manhattan KS is a low priority for your average terrorist cell. Unless, you know, the head of the athletic department is actually a secret CIA operative working to keep fertilizer out of the hands of radical extremists...that might explain his lack of competence at his alleged job.

And you know, I would think that small aircraft flown by private pilots blocking their flight plans would actually be more discouraged in a 'post-9/11 world' than less. nomansland talks about the time-crunch unexpected airplanes can present; if the staff of an airport doesn't have access to the data about who's flying where and when they'll arrive, who does have that info, exactly? Shouldn't, well, someone?

kneejerkreaction 7 years, 5 months ago

"It is fairly common, for security, to not let the whole world know where your plane is going," Cohen said.

Ok Mr. Cohen, then tell us where you've been.

jayhawks71 7 years, 5 months ago

I disagree with your statement about blocking flight plans in a post 9/11 world. The flight plans are blocked from public consumption. They don't simply go flying without notifying anyone. I don't see why, other than hobby or matter of MINOR convenience one would need to know the flight plans of commercial airliners and ONLY as a matter of hobby for private planes. Why do you need to know?

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