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Mon, Oct 22, 2007

South Dakota Trades In Old Navajo For King Air 90

Aircraft Purchased With Amtrak Dollars, Airport Funds

South Dakota has completed a $1.9 million deal for a 1999 King Air 90 to replace its 29-year-old Piper Navajo, a Transportation Department official said Friday.

The King Air, a seven-passenger aircraft, passed pre-purchase inspection and is expected to be operational sometime in early December, said Kellie Beck, director of finance and management for the DOT, according to a story in the Argus Leader.

The aircraft was purchased from Elliott Aviation of Omaha, NE. The South Dakota Department of Transportation liquidated two older airplanes before it bought its first King Air 90.

South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds (below) described the 1978 Piper Navajo as an old, high-maintenance aircraft. The state plans to sell the plane soon, although Beck said it would remain in the travel fleet until the King Air is operational.

Problems with the Navajo's landing gear indicator lights, that malfunctioned several times, were the last straw, according to Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist in a legislate committee hearing.

According to Bergquist, matching money from Amtrak and airport projects money will be used to pay for the new Beechcraft... which has stirred up controversy in congress.

Congressman Jim Oberstar-D-MN objected and wrote a letter to the federal inspector general last month, contending that transferring federal money to the state account to buy a $1.5 million 1995 King Air 90 was improper.

Oberstar's concern that the state "improperly used Amtrak money to purchase an airplane ... is in our opinion, incorrect," Bergquist said. "Amtrak funds were properly used as a match for airport projects. By using those Amtrak funds for those matching purposes, it freed up Aeronautics Fund dollars that were used, properly used, to purchase an airplane."

The purchase of the first King Air 90 passed a state Department of Legislative Audit review, who determined there was no misuse of funds.

In 1997, states without Amtrak service received a one-time payment from that federal agency. South Dakota received $23 million, for intercity bus and rail services. The program changed a year later allowing the money to be used for air service centers and intercity air service.

The state has $3.2 million remaining in the Amtrak account and about $700,000 in Amtrak money in the Aeronautics Fund, that must be spent by 2010 or repaid to the federal government with interest.

FMI: www.sddot.com/, www.narprail.org/cms/images/uploads/fund.pdf

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