Panel says state can save money by selling planes

Panel says state can save money by selling planes

29 April 2010

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USA —    North Carolina could save money in the short and long terms if it sold 25 aircraft from its 72-aircraft fleet, according to a report by legislative staff.

Most of the planes recommended for sale by the General Assembly’s watchdog group, the Program Evaluation Division, belong to the Division of Forest Resources.

“I think it’s obvious we need to get on with doing this,” said Rep. Hugh Holliman, a Lexington Democrat and the majority leader in the House. “I think it absolutely just makes sense.”

Under a plan put forward by the division, the state would reap more than $8 million from selling little-used aircraft.

Evaluators projected that the state would save more than $1 million every year after that by forgoing maintenance costs, consolidating hangars and staff. The division also recommended eliminating 10 pilot and six mechanic positions.

The committee of lawmakers that oversees the Program Evaluation Division recommended that their colleagues adopt the staff recommendations, despite push-back from some of the agencies affected.

“Our plane is used to shift resources statewide at a moment’s notice,” said Robin Pendergraft, who heads the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.

Two of the three planes used by the SBI are used primarily for missions such as looking for marijuana . A third aircraft, which the division recommended for elimination, is a twin-engine King Air used to transport law enforcement officers and prisoners.

Pendergraft said federal restrictions on handcuffing prisoners and carrying firearms makes transporting prisoners on commercial flights impractical.

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my daughter flying next to a murderer,” Pendergraft said.

Other lawmakers were concerned that the deepest cuts would be to the air fleet used to fight forest fires by the Division of Forest Resources.

Evaluators said they recommended the cuts because the aircraft flew less than 200 hours per year, a threshold looked at by industry experts in determining whether an aircraft is worth keeping.

“I’m glad they don’t fly more than they do,” said Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican. Eliminating the planes, he said, wouldn’t make sense if millions of dollars of property were lost to a forest fire.

The General Assembly session begins May 12. Although the division’s report was adopted by the committee, it will be up to the legislature’s budget writing committees to decide whether to enact the recommendations.

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