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NDSU president: Private plane justified, cost-effective

FARGO -- A private airplane cost North Dakota State University more than $500,000 last year, but President Dean Bresciani says it's a more efficient use of time and money than driving to meetings across the state.

NDSU President Dean Bresciani
NDSU President Dean Bresciani

FARGO -- A private airplane cost North Dakota State University more than $500,000 last year, but President Dean Bresciani says it's a more efficient use of time and money than driving to meetings across the state.

Bresciani said his goal is to use the plane only when multiple people need to travel and he flies commercial for out-of-state trips.

NDSU's Beechcraft King Air B-200 often carries the maximum eight passengers, which requires one passenger to sit on a seat that has a toilet under the cushion, Bresciani said.

"There's a perception that this is a luxury and an extravagance," Bresciani said. "Anybody who's been in it would hardly describe it as luxury travel. We use the plane as both a time and cost-efficiency mechanism."

To reduce the expense to NDSU, Bresciani has directed staff to arrange for the plane to be used in a charter pool so companies could rent the plane from NDSU when it's not in use. That arrangement is being finalized.


Bresciani said "it goes without saying" that he doesn't use the plane for personal use. The only times Bresciani has taken it out of state is to travel to Sioux Falls, S.D., for league basketball tournaments and meetings with Sanford Health officials.

For other trips, it's less expensive to fly commercial, to fly with alumni or friends of the university or to fly with an athletic team, he said.

A legislative committee is studying state-owned airplanes, but it's unclear if NDSU's plane will be included in the study.

Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, chairman of the Interim Government Services Committee, said the committee is studying planes owned by state agencies because some of the planes are getting old and last biennium there were high costs associated with some of them.

The study aims to look at whether there may be another option that is more cost-effective than having agencies own their own planes, Delzer said.

So far planes owned by NDSU and the University of North Dakota are not included in the study, said Brady Larson of the Legislative Council.

NDSU told the Legislative Council that its plane is owned by the NDSU Development Foundation, according to an email sent to the council.

NDSU began leasing the airplane in 2007, said Dan Hull, a special attorney general who handles issues related to the airplane for NDSU.


Annual lease payments for the plane are more than $322,000.

The NDSU Development Foundation was involved with the initial purchase, but the university directly makes the lease payments, said Jim Miller, executive director of the foundation.

When the 10-year lease expires in July 2017, the university will pay the foundation $1 for ownership of the plane, Hull said.

The university is considered the registered owner of the plane by the Federal Aviation Administration, Hull said.

Delzer said committee members may discuss including NDSU in the study.

"We have to get to the bottom of that," he said.

During the 2010-11 academic year, NDSU spent more than $225,000 in fuel and other operating expenses related to the plane.

That year included many trips to Bismarck for the legislative session.


It's common for major research universities to have private planes for travel to meetings, Bresciani said.

"Most consider it a no-brainer that it's inefficient both in terms of cost and time-wise to have a president car-bound for most of the workday simply to get to and from a meeting," Bresciani said.

UND, MSUM also fly

The University of North Dakota owns 72 aircraft and the UND Aerospace Foundation owns 56 aircraft that are primarily used for flight training and occasionally for passenger transportation, according to information provided to legislators.

President Robert Kelley and other administrators occasionally use the planes to travel to Bismarck, other cities in North Dakota and Sioux Falls, said spokesman Peter Johnson.

UND and Kelley faced some criticism in March for flying to Bismarck to testify on the Fighting Sioux nickname legislation. Johnson told the Herald then that university officials traveling in university aircrafts to Bismarck -- especially during legislative sessions -- has been standard practice for about 30 years, and flights allowed Kelley and others to testify on appropriations bills and other university matters, as well.

Whenever possible, the flights are also connected to a flying lesson, Johnson said, adding that students don't fly the passengers.

Kelley flies commercial for all other out-state travel, Johnson said.


Minnesota State University Moorhead President Edna Szymanski said she takes a commercial flight to meetings in St. Paul about once or twice a month.

The total cost of each flight is about $600, she said.

Szymanski said she's done a cost-benefit analysis and determined that it would only be slightly less expensive if she drove. Szymanski said she does not see well at night and driving would require one or two nights of staying in a hotel in order to attend meetings.

"If you continue to throw in the travel time and what you're not doing during the travel, I'm not sure anybody's getting their money's worth out of me if I'm on the road," Szymanski said.

Minnesota State Community and Technical College employees drive to meetings in St. Paul, said Jerry Migler, provost of the Moorhead campus.

With the NDSU plane, Bresciani said he often takes other NDSU employees, university system personnel, state Board of Higher Education members or legislators on the flights. They do not reimburse NDSU for the flights, he said.

"They are all people who are doing North Dakota state business, so I feel comfortable with that arrangement," Bresciani said.

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