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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press, Published July 11 2012

NDSU trying to sell school's costly-to-operate, little-used private plane

BISMARCK – North Dakota State University is attempting to sell a seldom-used private plane that costs more than $5,600 an hour to fly, a university official told lawmakers who have questioned the expense.

The hourly cost is four times what another state agency pays to operate a similar plane.

NDSU’s Beechcraft King Air B200, a twin-engine plane that was bought new for

$2.34 million five years ago, is on the market for $1.55 million, said Gary Wawers, a controller in the university’s accounting office.

During the state budget year that ended in June 2011, the plane was used for 41 flights lasting a total of 70 hours, Wawers told the Legislature’s interim Government Services Committee on Wednesday.

Records show the plane has been used mostly to fly NDSU President Dean Bresciani and other top administrators to meetings within North Dakota. It has also carried members of the Board of Higher Education, lawmakers and other North Dakota public college administrators.

The state Department of Transportation operates a similar Beechcraft King Air, which is used to fly the governor and top state officials. The agency’s plane was used for 276 hours during the state budget year that ended in June 2011, and cost about $1,300 an hour to fly, records show.

Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, said NDSU would need to use the plane for 250 to 300 hours annually to justify the cost of owning a plane versus hiring a charter service.

Sen. Jim Roers, R-Fargo, who is a private pilot, said the NDSU plane’s normal operating cost would be $800 to $1,000 an hour, assuming at least 250 hours of annual use. It would cost $1,200 to $1,500 an hour to hire a King Air if NDSU officials needed to take a private flight, Roers said.

“The problem that you’re having ... is that there’s not enough utilization of the plane to warrant the plane,” Roers said.

Since last November, NDSU has been allowing the Fargo Jet Center, a private charter company, to hire the university’s plane for $660 an hour to defray the school’s own expenses. The sum includes insurance coverage but does not include fuel, pilot time and other costs, Wawers said.

The Jet Center so far has paid more than $57,000 for 87 hours of use, he said.

NDSU is also exploring selling a share of the plane to a local business or businesses to cut the school’s operating cost, he said.

North Dakota State’s development foundation bought the plane in June 2007 and leased it to the university, which is listed as the plane’s owner. The agreement calls for NDSU to make $3.23 million in lease payments by May 2017, in quarterly installments of $80,730.

Wawers said the university still owes $1.37 million on the lease.

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