Aviation and politics, more precisely the reporting thereof, can be highly nuanced. What is said, or what appears to be said, is not always as it seems.
Here is the language which includes the ambiguities which allow the reader to draw negative conclusions about the Senator, incumbent candidate:
“Email records show vulnerable incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., requested to hide flight data surrounding the use of a private plane from the public. The email records were obtained by the Washington Free Beacon through a Freedom of Information Act request. In 2012, the Red State Democratic senator came under heavy fire for her use of a private jet at taxpayer expense. She only survived the tough reelection because her Republican opponent Todd Akin made a monumental gaffe about rape. In a political stunt, she demanded her husband “sell the damn plane.” But shortly after her reelection, the senator and her husband bought a new, more expensive plane. Now they are attempting to avoid similar scrutiny. Technically, the plane is owned through TLG Aviation LLC, a McCaskill-owned business entity valued at over $1 million. It’s all detailed on the senator’s personal financial disclosure form for the fiscal year 2016. Aero Charter, t he company hired by Senator McCaskill to operate the 2009 Pilatus PC-12/47E, wrote to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier in April 2017 to ask for the tracking information on the plane to be blocked from the public.”
“Garth Collins, the Vice President for Operations at Aero Charter, wrote the email asking the FAA to block flight data for the plane belonging to Senator McCaskill. The Obama Administration, which promised to be the most transparent in history, implemented changes that help Senator McCaskill and others hide such data from the public. In 2013, they eliminated the requirement for owners to cite a “certified security concern” to the FAA if they wanted to block their aircraft data from public display on websites such as FlightAware.com.
The Duchess in Alice in Wonderland explained the word play of this and other journalistic legerdemain (not exactly on point, but substitute “the words” for “you” or “yourself”):
The Duchess: “Be what you would seem to be — or, if you’d like it put more simply — Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise. “
Mr. Collins operates a Part 135 charter operation; it flies anyone who will pay for a ride on N5346, an airplane which a corporation owns and in turn the Senator and her husband own. He is a very successful businessman and likely has reason to use the Pilatus PC-12/47E in the course of his real estate development business, Sugar Creek Capital. Indeed, one article “revealed” that he MAY HAVE [not absolute truth] used the plane, “In the mid-1980s, he even had a Washington office and traveled there every week to lobby for the Council for Rural Housing and Development.”
So, the full statement is that the operator of the aircraft filed a request to the FAA on behalf of his company which flies customers, Mr. Shepard and perhaps the Senator (owners may be flown under Part 91) pursuant to the protections of BARR. The article’s shadowy language, that the Senator “requested to hide flight data surrounding the use of a private plane from the public” involves a fair amount of dissembling,” is not supported by the facts
The next bit of journalistic slight-of-hand/word involves the suggestion that the Senator was involved in the reestablishment of Blocked Aircraft Registration Request (BARR).
First and foremost, the Obama Administration originally proposed to terminate the program. Their intention was to increase transparency.
A petition was filed by a trade association, which represent businesses with aircraft; the document requested that BARR be reinstated. That concept was then put out for comment. Coincidentally, Congress reauthorized the program in a major appropriations bill for which the Senator voted aye with most of her colleague in response to this very lengthy bill.
Then the FAA started a notice and comment process. Under FAA’s rigorous adherence to the Administrative Procedure Act, any oral or written request by the Senator or her staff in support of BARR MUST HAVE BEEN included in the Federal Record in which this program was proposed, implemented on an interim basis and adopted.
The Business Roundtable did send a letter to the FAA in opposition to an earlier regulatory action, which would have halted BARR; here is a paragraph from that submission on the substantive points :
“FAA’s plan to restrict the BARR program would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy, a threat to the competitiveness of U.S. companies, and a potential risk to persons traveling on a general aviation aircraft. Our members utilize all modes of transportation in the conduct of their business. The use of an aircraft is absolutely essential in meeting a portion of their transportation challenges. Anything that singles out aircraft use for separate and punitive treatment is damaging to our economic recovery.”
It is fair to say that neither the Obama Administration nor the Democratic Senator sought to limit access to this information.
Now to the technical and mundane—the plane.
It , a Pilatus PC-12 , is a single-engine turboprop passenger and cargo aircraft. It is a highly utilitarian vehicle, well known for its speed and efficiency.
Its performance is marked by its capacity— least 1,200 pounds of payload, its range— 1,000 miles against the strongest headwind and its speed—a maximum cruise speed of around 260 knots. Flying Magazine referred to the PC-12 as “…more economical to operate than any turbine airplane of similar size.” The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia became the launch customer of the PC-12 for its medical flights in the outback. Its image is not as a luxury plane.
The Aero Charter is a useful aircraft to fly between the Capitol and Missouri. Here is a picture of the Aero Charter N5346 parked at Washington Dulles International Airport.
The straight forward story is as follows:
- The Senator and her husband own an airplane (more that a few Members own personal aircraft).
- Like others, who have such an aircraft and who chose not to use it 100% of the time, opt to place it on a Part 135 certificate. The air charter operator with such FAA authority, may fly the plane for hire and thus may reduce the cost of ownership.
- Aero Charter, on behalf of all of its customers, requested to participate in BARR. That is a Congressionally authorized program and was supported by a broad segment of operators.
- The record shows that the Senator did not request that the FAA reinstate BARR.
Once the obfuscation is cleared, the Senator’s use of a utilitarian plane is not as nefarious as suggested.
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