"I knew we had a state plane somewhere, but I didn't think we ever used it," said Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle County).
The state's current aircraft is a 1962 three passenger Cessna 182. It's housed at the state airport in Berlin. Senator Dick Mazza said he was shocked when the topic of buying a new aircraft was pitched to his Senate Transportation Committee. "It raised a lot of eyebrows in our committee about, one: do we need a plane? two: what's the cost? and who's using it?" he said.
Vermont's aviation director wants a brand new five passenger Beechcraft Baron. The lease-to-own program would cost taxpayers $155-thousand a year for the next ten years.
"It's a lot of money to be spent for a state plane that nobody knows about," Sen. Mazza said.
"We need a state airplane to maintain the airports, and the truth is this one's gotten old," said Chris Cole with VTrans.
The Agency of Transportation said it logs 75 flying hours annually using the plane to conduct inspections and safety equipment checks at state airports. The other 75-hours are logged by other state agencies for aerial surveying of clear cutting and illegal dumping investigations, as well as transportation for executive staff.
"The governor has used the plane on occasion," Cole said. "He uses it for those types of things where he has to be in two places at the same time."
VTrans officials said the Cessna's engine, propeller and avionics need replacing. A fix that costs $83-thousand. They said the plane is only worth $80-thousand. "Is it wise to spend $83-thousand to keep an old airplane up in the air that has potential safety issues, that has reached its useful life? I don't think that's a good use of money," Cole said.
And officials said chartering a plane is not cost effective either -- at rates of $2,200 per hour, they say an aircraft would cost double to rent.
"I don't think it's a good use of taxpayer money to spend $330-thousand a year chartering someone else's plane when we could spend 150-thousand a year owning our own," Cole said.
But lawmakers back in Montpelier aren't clearing this plan for take-off. "At this time when there's no money available. We're not about to jump onto something at that cost," Sen. Mazza said. "I'm just looking at the dollars and cents and to me it doesn't make a lot of sense."