The Plane Truth, Part 1

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) The year this aircraft was built, astronaut John Glenn orbited the earth, a gallon of milk cost $1 and Marilyn Monroe serenaded JFK. Times have definitely changed but not for Vermont's state plane. The aviation department is still flying the 1962 Cessna.

We got 16 years of flight logs showing an average of 118 flying hours a year.

"That's not a lot of hours for an airplane," said Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.

The governor has never really been a fan of having a taxpayer-funded state plane.

"We have a hangar that we have to appropriate for and maintenance and so forth, so maybe it's not worth it. Maybe we should just do away with the aircraft," Scott said back when he was lieutenant governor and we first told you about this story.

In 2013, Scott and then-Gov. Peter Shumlin were at odds over the hunk of steel. Lawmakers were trying to close a $60 million budget gap and Shumlin wanted a newer, safer plane.

"Last time I was in it, the door flew open and I pulled it shut. I wanted to see how much gas was in it. So, we knocked on the gas gauge a few times and couldn't get it to read... My staff flips out every time I crawl into it," Shumlin said in 2013.

The Beechcraft Baron he wanted came with a $1.5 million price tag. Shumlin believed it was a better investment than sinking $80,000 into fixing up the old one. Scott called that extravagant. In the end, Shumlin's plans for a new plane were grounded.

Reporter Jennifer Costa: No plans for a $1.5 million plane?
Gov. Phil Scott: No, not on my watch.

No new plane and we discovered he's selling the one we have.

"I think we just cut our losses rather than to continue to put money into it," Scott said.

We dug into the numbers and found even selling it won't be profitable for the state. Since 2013, Vermont shelled out $58,000 to fly it and sunk another $180,000 into maintenance. According to an appraisal report, the plane is only worth $102,000.

Scott tells us he's never used the plane but a handful of state agencies do for surveying, aerial photography, airport checks and low-speed searches. He says when those infrequent requests come up, it will be cheaper for the state to rent.

"I think that would make much more sense than owning our own aircraft at this point," Scott said.

But it's not just that he wants to sell the state plane, a tip led us to confirm his administration quietly folded the state's aviation program into the rail department after the sudden resignation of its longtime aviation director. And that may have been motivated by more than saving money.

"After the former director moved on, we did an internal audit to try to find opportunities for us to do things differently," Scott said.

And that's just the beginning of where this story goes. Thursday, we'll show you what we discovered from weeks of digging into public records. Including allegations of abuses on your dime.



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