Governor Haslam Gets $4 Million New Ride
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and members of his Cabinet spend a lot of time criss-crossing the state, doing the public's business.
Now, the state has added a $4 million aircraft to the fleet that's used to fly the governor around.
The King Air 350, a 2007 twin-engine turboprop purchased back in December, is now the lead plane in the fleet operated by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
"The governor is always the first priority for this aircraft," said Lyle Monroe, the state's chief pilot.
Monroe said the aircraft has lots of advantages over the 1985 model King Air that Tennessee's governors have flown for years, including more powerful, more efficient engines.
"We can burn the same amount of fuel and get further with this aircraft because of the increased speed," he said.
Inside the cockpit, it's got more advanced systems to make the pilots' jobs easier -- including conflict-avoidance systems to help then steer clear of other aircraft.
"If an aircraft encroaches within a certain limit of the airspace, it'll tell us pull up, turn left, turn right -- and it'll keep telling us to do that until we've actually gotten out of the conflict area," he added.
Inside the cabin, the aircraft provides comfortable seating for nine people, not counting the two-member flight crew.
"It's not something that we started and did quickly. We've been looking at this for several years," the chief pilot added.
In fact, Monroe said, part of the deal is that TDOT will sell another older and smaller King Air that's often used by other state officials -- to cut down on maintenance costs.
"The older airplanes we are having to fix more all the time on," he explained. "Every time we take them in, it's going to cost us more to repair those."
TDOT spokesperson B.J. Doughty says the department did shop around, but ended up paying the full asking price for the plane -- because state purchasing rules do not require a bidding process for used equipment.
State records show that the aircraft was purchased from Bell Aviation, out of Columbia, South Carolina.
"You are not required to go through the bidding process," Doughty said. "But I think that, more than anything, when you are purchasing something like an airplane, it's not as easy to get bids."
In the end, they hope that taxpayers will see that it is plainly a good investment.