The state of Missouri owns 14 planes and five helicopters. It spends about $3.3 million a year to operate the fleet, and employs 16 pilots at an added annual cost of $1.5 million.
A new report by state auditor Tom Schweich makes a strong case for saving money by paring down the state’s fleet of aircraft and consolidating operations. Gov. Jay Nixon should follow up with an analysis of how that could work.
The passenger fleet was used at capacity only 10 percent of the time, or 51 business days in 2012 and 2013. Schweich’s audit sensibly proposes that better scheduling among the fleet’s primary users — Nixon’s office, the Missouri Department of Transportation and the state Department of Conservation — could enable the state to get by with fewer aircraft.
In addition, the state paid $183,638 for charter flights over the two-year period, ending Dec. 31, 2013, the report notes. Most of those flights were to transport members of the citizen commissions that oversee the departments of conservation and transportation. Often they flew on days when state-owned planes were available.
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Those are important volunteer assignments and would be unattractive to busy people if they knew they’d have to spend hours on the road driving to meetings, as the audit suggests. But it makes sense to use state planes when available, and the highways for shorter distances.