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The debate over a pricey state plane for Vermont - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

The debate over a pricey state plane for Vermont

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

"It's basically a safety issue," said Chris Cole of VTrans. "This plane behind us has seen its useful life."

That was the official word from VTrans Monday. Planning director Chris Cole told WCAX News the state's 50-year-old Cessna 182 would need $83,000 worth of repairs to continue operating safely. Since that's more than the plane is worth, state aviation officials wanted lawmakers to approve a $1.5 million lease-to-own program for a brand new Beechcraft Baron.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, grounded that proposal Thursday.

"My staff flips out every time I crawl into it. But I have confidence in the airplane. We don't have to do it this year, but at some point we're going to have to deal with it," Shumlin said Thursday.

Cole says the news is disappointing and VTrans is refocusing financial resources on roadwork rather than airplanes. A wise fiscal move, according to Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who never supported the purchase.

"It's a sophisticated piece of equipment that we probably wouldn't use enough to warrant buying," said Scott, R-Vermont.

According to the Cessna's flight logs over the last decade, use has steadily declined since 2008, with an average of 122 flying hours annually. Scott says a Beechcraft Baron is not a wise investment.

"We have to make sure that we're as frugal as possible, that there's no fluff," Scott said. "And when I saw the aircraft, I thought this seems extravagant for Vermont. This seems like something is fluff. We don't have to have this."

Scott says the Beechcraft Baron is primarily a people mover, not a plane for aerial photography, surveying and low-speed searches. Records show the governor used the current state aircraft five times last year, yet his administration denies playing any part in picking a new plane.

"That was made because there was a desire expressed by the secretary that a twin engine would be a good aircraft to have because it has redundancy in the engines," Cole said.

Cole couldn't vouch for the current safety of the Cessna. He says it will cost $60,000 in budget year 2014 to overhaul the engine and replace the propeller. But a $23,000 avionics upgrade will have to wait.

"We're very well used to getting by with less, so we'll put the work that we need to put into the plane and we'll get by another year," Cole said.

"Maybe we don't need an airplane at all," Scott said. "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."

In the meantime, VTrans plans to keep a close eye on the aging aircraft's flying hours and Cole says that may mean denying some agencies' requests to use it.

VTrans says it needs an airplane to complete mandated safety inspections at state airports and eventually the Cessna will have to be replaced. But the type of plane, how much it costs and whether it's used is now open for debate.

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