The Utah Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division currently owns two airplanes: a King Air C90 (purchased in 1999) and a King Air B200 (purchased in 2000). These planes are available for agencies and officials to use to conduct state business. Additionally, the Department of Transportation (UDOT) leases two hangars and office space (approximately 19,000 square feet) at the Salt Lake City International Airport. The Department of Public Safety and the Department of Natural Resources also own aircraft and sublease hangar space from UDOT.
UDOT can schedule and reserve flights for state agencies to St. George, Moab, Cedar City, Vernal, Richfield, Price, Logan, and Kanab. State agencies are billed a subsidized fee to use the plane, which goes toward expenses of operating the planes. In Fiscal Year 2023, operating and maintenance for both planes totaled $836,900 and UDOT collected $192,000 in user fees.
In the 2022 General Session, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 166, “Aviation Amendments,” which directed UDOT to study alternative methods for user charges of the state air fleet and incrementally reduced the amount that could be used from the Aeronautics Restricted Account for operation and maintenance. The bill also created the State Aircraft Restricted Account, which will fund all operation and maintenance costs for the state airplanes starting in fiscal year 2028.
The Aeronautics Restricted Account primarily consists of funds from aviation fuel tax, aircraft registration fees, appropriations. The account can be used for the construction, improvement, operation, and maintenance of publicly used airports in this state, the payment of principal and interest on certain debt, operation of the UDOT Division of Aeronautics, promotion of aeronautics in the state, and UDOT administration costs. Per S.B. 166, the Aeronautics Restricted Account cannot be used to purchase an airplane or subsidize operating and maintenance costs after fiscal year 2027.
The new State Aircraft Restricted Account consists of fees UDOT collects for use of state-owned aircraft, appropriations, contributions from public and private sources, and interest income. Funding in the account is authorized to be used for the operation and maintenance of state-owned aircraft.
During the 2022 interim, UDOT made a presentation to the Transportation Interim Committee outlining user fees, including an alternative option for setting these fees. During the 2022 and 2023 General Sessions, the Legislature appropriated General Fund into the new State Aircraft Restricted Account to offset user fees which do not cover the cost of operating and maintaining the airplanes.
In the 2023 General Session, the Legislature appropriated $7.0 million in House Bill 3, “Current Fiscal Year Supplemental Appropriations,” (item 28), for UDOT to purchase a plane. The following intent language was attached to the appropriation:
The Legislature intends that up to $7,000,000 provided by this item be used to replace the Department of Transportation’s (UDOT) two existing King Air airplanes with a single aircraft of similar capability. The Legislature further intends that UDOT transfer the existing King Airs to Utah Valley University (UVU) for use in state aviation instruction programs. UVU shall partner with other institutions to provide training and experience in twin engine fixed-wing aviation throughout the state. UVU shall also occasionally offer the use of these aircraft to UDOT and the State of Utah as back-up to the new state plane. The Legislature intends that UDOT and UVU report progress on the above transactions to the Executive Appropriations Committee before October 1, 2023.
In the report submitted to the Executive Appropriations Committee, UDOT stated that a contract has been signed and the new plane should be delivered in December 2024. UDOT is not planning to transfer the two existing planes to Utah Valley University until the new plane is delivered. Additionally, UDOT made a recommendation for a modified transfer scheme, which would allow them to retain one of the two existing King Air planes. The Legislature will consider this recommendation during the 2024 General Session.