9 investigates underused, costly NC aircraft fleet

by: Blair Miller Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A 9 investigation found some of the 47 aircraft the state of North Carolina owns are hardly used.
 
North Carolina residents are paying about $7 million each year for those planes and helicopters.
 
Several Channel 9 employees spent weeks looking through years of flight logs to see how some of those aircraft have been used.
               
Channel 9 focused on planes and helicopters that belong to the Commerce and Transportation Department – the aircraft that shuttle elected leaders across North Carolina.
 
Several years ago, the state spent $6 million to buy a helicopter which logged just 15 flight hours last year.
               
One of the planes logged just 90 hours -- less than two hours a week, on average.
 
Jamie Shafer is the CEO of Charlotte Jet Sales, which manages and sells private aircraft.
               
He said any private plane should fly at least 200 hours a year to even be worth the cost.
 
Channel 9 asked if Shafer would be losing money if he flew an aircraft 20-40 hours per year.
 
“Oh, absolutely,” Shafer said. “There’s no justification to it from a cost standpoint.”
 
None of the Department of Transportation aircraft flew 200 hours last year. The flight logs showed some very short flights, like one last year from Concord to Charlotte, which is a 25-mile drive, but the flight likely cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
 
Channel 9 asked Department of Transportation officials about the aircraft. Aviation Director Richard Walls said by phone the flight hours were unusually low last year.
 
“The ability to access a helicopter is needed from an economic recruitment and emergency response standpoint,” Walls said. “But at this point we just think the hours are too low.”
 
State Rep. Jason Saine, from Lincoln County, serves on the transportation committee.
               
He started looking into this after Channel 9 showed him the findings. Eyewitness News showed Saine the flight from Concord to Charlotte.
 
“That's not the message we need to send. There might be a bigger reason why that happened but I really can't foresee why that would be necessary,” Saine said.
               
Channel 9 was not the first to bring this up to state agencies. Eyewitness News uncovered a state report from 2010 and one from 2012 that warned agencies that some aircraft were “underutilized and could be eliminated.”
 
The study recommended selling some planes and helicopters, which it did.
               
Saine said the state still hasn't done enough and now he plans to seek legislation to help crack down on how the state fleet is used.
 
“We need to take corrective action quickly and reapply those dollars to something more important,” Saine said.
 
As for the helicopter used 15 hours last year, the DOT aviation director said they plan to sell it. The decision wasn’t formally made until a month after Channel 9 started asking questions.

Click here for more information from the oversight committee.

Click here for more information from the state's report.