LINCOLN — A proposal to buy a new state airplane took off smoothly in the Legislature on Thursday.
State lawmakers gave 31-3 first-round approval to Legislative Bill 1016. The measure authorizes the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics to replace the state's aging 1982 Piper Cheyenne.
State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, who introduced the measure, said he believes a state the size of Nebraska needs an airplane for use by the governor, lawmakers and state agency personnel.
He recommended buying a new five-passenger Beechcraft King Air C90GTx, which would cost an estimated $3.6 million.
That was the plane identified by a legislatively commissioned study as the state's best option.
“It's fast, it's safe, it's state-of-the-art,” Krist said.
He introduced LB 1016 this year after leading opposition last year to Gov. Dave Heineman's request to buy a 13-year-old turboprop plane from the University of Nebraska Foundation.
The Beechcraft King Air B200 had been used by the governor, as well as the university. It was offered to the state for $2.1 million.
But Krist said the cost was too high for a plane of its age.
The legislative study concluded it was worth $1.9 million and would require extensive maintenance in the near future. The plane has since been sold to a private buyer. Krist said the new owner already has had to do $250,000 worth of engine work.
The plan to purchase a new aircraft met with few headwinds in the Legislature.
Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis questioned whether it made more sense to charter a plane than to buy one.
Krist said he believes buying a plane would be the better option.
He cited figures from state aeronautics officials showing the cost of a round-trip flight from Lincoln to Scottsbluff would be at least 50 percent higher for charter than for a state-owned plane.
In addition, he said, a charter plane would be available only on a first-come, first-served basis, rather than be dedicated to state use, and the pilots would not be state employees with known backgrounds.
Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers voted against the proposal because he said he doesn't trust state officials not to use the plane for campaign purposes. He suggested the governor should get out on the road and “see Nebraska.”
But Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff said driving across the state would take too much time for a busy governor. He said a new airplane makes sense for the safety of those using it.
“I think it's extremely important to have our people safe,” he said.
Two governors in other states have died in accidents involving state planes, and planes carrying Nebraska governors have slid off runways and struck geese in the past two decades.
Krist said the Beechcraft King Air C90CTx could land at three-fourths of the airstrips in Nebraska. It needs only 3,000 feet of runway. It can cruise at altitudes of 25,000 feet, with an average cruising speed of 261 knots. It can be flown 500 miles without refueling.
He recommended that the state trade in the plane after 20 years. At that point it would still have a value of about $1 million to $1.5 million, but maintenance costs would escalate.
Nebraska uses its state plane about 150 hours per year, Krist said.