Gov. Mark Dayton is asking for $10 million to replace the state’s two airplanes, the Star Tribune reports.
“Since my body is one of the ones hanging up in the air there I have a personal investment, but I also have a philosophical belief that people who dedicate their lives to serving the people of Minnesota should not be required to sacrifice those lives because of dysfunctional or inadequate equipment,” Dayton said at a recent budget presentation, adding that the planes “are reaching the end of their safe operations.”
They’re not, really.
Unlike cars, 30-year-old airplanes are generally in their infancy because they don’t drive on salt-covered roads, they’re stored in hangars when they’re not flying, and airplanes are maintained much better than a typical car. Structural integrity isn’t really an issue.
The state’s planes’ flights are usually relatively short — about 45 minutes.
In fact, engines are completely overhauled on a fairly regular basis.
And that’s the problem, apparently.
The two planes are growing more costly to maintain as they age, MnDOT officials said, and planes are grounded for increasingly longer periods of time for repairs and upkeep. By the time an aircraft reaches 30 years old, agency officials said, it spends as much time in the shop as in the air. The state planes also are due for engine overhauls in the next four years that would cost between $250,000 and $300,000 per plane, MnDOT said.
Then there’s the outdated flight equipment. Where new airplanes are outfitted with sophisticated computer imaging and other technological advances, the aged Beechcraft consoles are covered in dials, meters and switches that harken back to a pre-digital era. Jeff Flynn, MnDOT’s chief pilot, said the equipment on new planes serves to enhance a pilot’s “situational awareness” — that is, “everything that’s going on around you, in your flight path and with your aircraft.”
The Beechcraft planes are not unsafe, Flynn said. “But they’re less safe.”
But there’s another fact: When a plane crashes, it’s rarely the plane’s fault.
Related aviation: Airlines service to St. Cloud: Worthwhile effort or futile quest? (St. Cloud Times).