FAA rules mean KU Athletics can’t pay for flights on university planes

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

In this file photo from Dec. 8, 2011, Charlie Weis gets off the Kansas University plane at the Lawrence Airport after agreeing to become the 37th football coach in KU history.

Although Kansas University Athletics had almost $97.7 million in revenue last year, when its officials fly on KU jets, the expenses are paid for with public money.

Federal Aviation Administration rules prohibit the university’s aviation services from accepting payment from anyone, including KU Athletics, for flights, university communications director Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said.

KU Athletics received about $1.5 million in state funds this year, said Breeze Richardson, director of communications for the Kansas Board of Regents. “The money is used for salaries and related employer costs for the Athletics Director and team physician (approximately $500,000), use of university aircraft and other operating expenses….”

Here’s how the FAA rules work: The FAA distinguishes between owners of private planes providing for their own transportation and charter companies that make money by providing transportation to others. KU operates under FAA Part 91, which regulates the first category.

The two sets of rules have very different requirements for pilots and for operating the planes, said Jeff Wieand, senior vice president and general counsel for Boston JetSearch, a consulting company for jet buyers.

Part 91 rules are for “noncommercial” operations and generally prohibit any compensation or reimbursement to be paid to the owner for carrying passengers, Wieand said.

The FAA has two sets of rules because the agency thinks people paying for a charter flight should expect a business to follow higher standards than individual owners, Wieand said.

So the charter rules, referred to as Part 135 rules, were written to hold commercial operations to tougher requirements.

For instance, if KU operates under Part 91, its pilots could in theory fly for days without taking a break, Wieand said. The tougher Part 135 rules, however, have specific “flight-duty-time and rest requirements,” he said. Part 135 rules also have tougher standards for pilot qualifications and require that flight crews be drug and alcohol tested.

In addition, a Part 135 aircraft must be operated and maintained to more stringent standards, including fire safety protection.

If the FAA officials find out that plane owners are violating the rules, they can ground the plane and assess fines and penalties, Wieand said. Pilots violating 135 also can lose their license.

Four-part coverage of KU plane ownership and usage