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.

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).