Governor's jet plane is on the way

$2.6 million craft slated to arrive today

Posted: Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The state Department of Public Safety has completed the purchase of a $2.6 million jet, and Commissioner Bill Tandeske says he expects the aircraft to be brought to Alaska by Tuesday.

The 1984 Westwind II is to be put to immediate use by Gov. Frank Murkowski for state trips and to move prisoners to Arizona, where the state leases jail space, he said.

The jet for the past month or more has been undergoing maintenance and getting a new paint job in Nebraska.

The Department of Public Safety announced plans this summer to buy the jet from a Las Vegas aircraft broker. The total cost of the aircraft plus training for four pilots is just less than $2.7 million.

The plane will be paid for through a line of credit the state has with Key Bank, so the purchase does not require legislative approval.

Earlier this year, a state House of Representatives committee removed a $1.4 million budget line item to lease a jet. Murkowski last year was denied a request to buy a jet with federal Homeland Security money.

The department plans to sell one of its two King Air propeller planes, either through an aircraft broker or through the Internet auction site eBay, once it takes possession of the jet, Tandeske said.

Critics have scorned the state's purchase of the jet, calling it an unneeded luxury item for the governor. The governor's office has said a jet is safer because it flies higher and faster.

Murkowski and the department will split the use of the jet. Murkowski now accounts for about 40 percent of the total time the department's two planes are in the air.

"The jet is a DPS asset and like all of our assets, we have priority," Tandeske said. "That being said, in most instances, we are able to accommodate everyone's needs by adjusting schedules where needed. That has been the case with our King Air aircraft and will not change with the jet."

Yet to be determined is whether Murkowski will take the jet on out-of-state trips, such as last week's visit to Washington, D.C., when he met with Interior Secretary Gail Norton.

"The jet is more than capable of making out-of-state trips, but whether the governor actually uses it on out-of-state trips depends on the trip and the availability of the aircraft," Murkowski spokeswoman Becky Hultberg said.

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