9:24pm

Tue June 7, 2011
Statehouse News

Aviation Needs Under Review

Kentucky lawmakers want to know more about aviation needs, including aircraft owned and operated by the state.  The Department of Aviation has 35 employees and an annual budget of around $10 million. The department oversees three fixed-wing aircraft and one helicopter. Two other planes under the department's control were sold at auction last month.

At least two other state agencies also have aircraft and Rep. Jimmie Lee of Elizabethtown wants to see an inventory of the state air fleet.

"To at least know what kind of aircraft we have and just exactly what agency is responsible for those aircraft," said Lee.

A new state budget will be approved next year, and lawmakers want to know more about how state money is being spent on aviation, including funding for general aviation airports, runway repairs and improvements, and weather equipment.

The use of road fund dollars for aviation needs, and the fate of a six-percent sales tax on jet fuel are also expected to be part of the ongoing discussion.

MOSQUITO CONTROL

Rep. Will Coursey, D-Benton, is upset the state no longer has an airplane to use in the current fight to eradicate mosquitoes. Western Kentucky is battling a major mosquito outbreak in the wake of record spring flooding.

Coursey says he made some inquiries and was told the state airplane formerly used for mosquito spraying has been sold.

"I asked how they were handling the problem and they said that they were sending out pickup trucks to the individual sites, where there were complaints, which is really just kind of putting a band-aid," said Coursey.

Last month, the state auctioned off two fix-winged aircraft Gov. Steve Beshear said were no longer needed. Neither of the planes was suitable for mosquito spraying.

JET FUEL TAX

Kentucky's current six percent sales tax on jet fuel was also discussed. The tax, paid by Kentucky-based airlines, raised about $6 million last year. That's down from previous years. The tax is capped annually at $1 million per carrier, and the airlines generally reach the cap quickly.

Some lawmakers think it may be time to lift the cap, so the state can raise more revenue for aviation needs. Department of Aviation Commissioner Winn Turney was asked his opinion of the idea.

"Well, airlines don't want to give money to anybody right now," Turney told Kentucky Public Radio. "They're having a hard time staying afloat. You'd have to ask the legislature and the airline people themselves what they think about that. I'm sure they would get together and talk about it, but I have no idea what would happen."

The current use of state road fund dollars for aviation needs is also part of the discussion.