When Clemson University sold one of its two planes last year, the school started using a new type of public transportation – the state’s airplanes.
Clemson has used the state’s two planes for more trips between Oct. 1, 2011, and Sept. 30 than Gov. Nikki Haley or state lawmakers, according to flight log data from the S.C. Aeronautics Commission.
The university has reimbursed the state $90,455 for 30 flights in the past year. Haley’s office used the state-owned planes for 21 trips, while all state agencies combined accounted for 18. Lawmakers used the planes for 16 trips, led by four by House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.
Talk about who is using the state-owned planes ramped up after Gov. Nikki Haley said last week that she thinks South Carolina should sell its aircraft. Haley made the suggestion after she had to repay nearly $10,000 for using the planes to attend bill signings and news conferences – uses no longer deemed legitimate state business by legislators.
Clemson is the only public college that has used the state-owned planes in the past year, according to state flight logs.
The University of South Carolina owns two planes and spent nearly $700,000 on flights and pilots from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, according to school data. That was $200,000 less than Clemson spent on its two planes in 2010-11, the last full fiscal year that Clemson owned two planes.
Clemson says it uses the state-owned planes to save money – the school spent nearly $160,000 less in flight costs in 2010-11 than during the previous year. By using the state-owned planes, the school says it also avoided the cost of buying a new university-owned plane.
Using the state planes saves Clemson officials time traveling from its campus in the northwest corner of South Carolina.
“Because of our location, a one-hour budget presentation in Columbia could easily consume an entire day for auto travel,” school spokeswoman Robin Denny said.
Clemson sold one of its planes, a 1977 Aero Commander, for $512,000 in February 2011 and has been relying on a plane bought for its athletics department by its booster group IPTAY.
When the athletics department or state-owned planes are booked, the university leases charter planes, at a cost of nearly $113,000 since December 2010.
Clemson began using state planes in October 2011 at the suggestion of S.C. Aeronautics officials.
Clemson president James Barker has flown state planes for 11 trips in the past year, mostly to come Columbia for meetings. Barker also has flown to an Atlantic Coast Conference gathering and to Atlanta for a trip to London for the Summer Olympic Games, according to manifests. Some of his flights listed no specific purpose.
Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney and basketball coach Brad Brownell have used state-owned planes on 10 occasions though no specifics of their travel were listed on manifests.
The school said all travel on the state-owned planes was for university business.
“It (also) has improved the cost-effectiveness of the state’s air service, which is why the state encouraged us to use this shared resource,” Barker said in a statement.
Clemson’s increased use of the state planes has not led to scheduling conflicts with other agencies, S.C. Aeronautics executive director Paul Werts said. Planes are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis with no priority given to any state officials, he said.
If the state planes are sold, as Clemson grad Haley has suggested, the school would lean on leasing charter planes for its travel needs, Denny said. The hourly rate on charter flights is about half the cost of operating the Clemson-owned plane, the university said.
Haley said she is not concerned about her alma mater having to find alternate travel if the state-owned planes are sold. Instead, she said her focus is on how lawmakers are using the aircraft.
Haley, lawmakers and agency officials use the planes mostly for speaking engagements, to meet with members of Congress or economic development prospects, and attend association meetings, according to manifests.
“When I think about the state plane, I don’t think about the colleges and the universities,” Haley said. “The plane is for the people.
“It’s not for the users for convenience.”