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Lummis: Disruptive Passengers Protesting Masks Should Not Go On No-Fly List

in News/politics
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis joined several Republican colleagues this week in arguing against putting people who disrupt airplane flights to protest facemask mandates on a “no-fly list,” saying it would put them on the same footing as terrorists.

In a letter sent Monday to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland by Lummis and seven other Republican senators, the senators expressed strong opposition to a proposed comprehensive “no-fly” list for disruptive airplane passengers.

“While airlines are currently free to deny service to any individual over past transgressions on their flights, the federal government’s role in denying access to the commercial aviation network has been limited to ensuring that suspected terrorists remain off of domestic flights,” the letter said.

The senators noted in their letter that the majority of recent infractions on airplanes have been related to the Transportation Security Administration’s mask mandate, as there is “significant uncertainty” around the mandate’s efficacy.

“Creating a federal ‘no-fly’ list for unruly passengers who are skeptical of this mandate would seemingly equate them to terrorists who seek to actively take the lives of Americans and perpetrate attacks on the homeland,” the letter said. “The TSA was created in the wake of 9/11 to protect Americans from future horrific attacks, not to regulate human behavior onboard flights.”

Garland received a letter from Delta Airlines earlier this month, in which officials indicted their desire for the U.S. Department of Justice to create a list that would essentially ban any airline passenger who has been convicted of disrupting a flight from using being any to fly on any commercial air service provider.

But the senators argued that such a list would result in a “severe restriction” on the ability of citizens to fully exercise their constitutional right to engage in interstate transportation.

“It also raises serious concerns about future unrelated uses and potential expansions of the list based on political pressures. If the airlines seek to have such a list created, they would be best served presenting that request before Congress rather than relying on a loose interpretation of a decades-old statute originally written to combat terrorism,” the letter said. “Absent any updated expressed directive from Congress, we strongly urge DOJ to reject this request.”

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were 5,891 reports of unruly passenger incidents in 2021, 72% of which were related to masks.

The current mask mandate on flights is set to expire on March 18.

The idea of a comprehensive “no-fly” list has generated mixed reactions. A senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union told NPR last week that it was a bad idea to create the list.

However, many officials within the airline and transportation industry have been in support of the list.

An American Airlines flight was diverted on Sunday to the Kansas City International Airport after a passenger attempted to open the plane’s exit door. A flight attendant subdued him after hitting him in the head with a coffee pot.

Last week, a man was removed from a Frontier Airlines flight in Cleveland after he and another passenger exchanged heated words about the upcoming Super Bowl game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams, who ultimately won.

As the man was escorted off the plane, he declared himself the “only Bengals fan.”

Lummis spokeswoman Abegail Cave told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that Lummis believes incidents like the man attempting to open the exit door should be prosecuted via the proper legal channels.

“The letter she led to the Department of Justice denounces behavior such as this,” Cave said. “However, the concern remains that a list such as this would enable a secret process that could result in many Americans being denied access to the commercial aviation system. Airlines are well within their rights to ban these passengers from their flights, but the federal government should not be keeping lists on their behalf. Sen. Lummis is strongly opposed to removing one’s constitutional right to travel without due process, which is precisely what this ‘no-fly’ list would do.”

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Legislator Says Wyoming Should Sell State Jets, WYDOT Pushes Back

in News/Taxes/Legislature
Wyoming’s jets cost state $1 million in 2018
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, says Wyoming sell its two jets used for transporting state employees, but some officials have pushed back against this idea.

“The State of Wyoming should list its TWO Luxury jets on EBAY instead of raising taxes and pushing toll road,” Bouchard wrote on his Facebook account that also featured a photo of the planes.

However, multiple Wyoming Department of Transportation studies have concluded the planes actually save the state money instead of being more costly.

State aeronautics division administrator Brian Olsen told Cowboy State Daily that although his department doesn’t have an official stance on the jets, the staff finds they are an efficient and effective tool in conducting state business.

“In 2014, a third party conducted an operational study report. That report indicated that the … total cost to operate the two aircraft was $2,645,995 average per year,” Olsen said. “We estimate the current operating costs to be on average between $2 and $2.1 million per year.”

The state owns the aircraft outright, so the only costs are for operations and maintenance.

“WYDOT pays the fixed costs (training/payroll/hangar/etc.) because we own and operate the aircraft and we would be responsible for those costs regardless of usage,” Olsen said. “When an agency uses the aircraft, we charge $1,425 per hour, that rate covers variable (consumable) costs.”

The study Olsen referenced also found the state’s transport aircraft were 14% more efficient per mile than auto/airline travel (based on a $100,000 salary). However, the study didn’t account for lost productivity or travel expenses associated with travel by car, which would also make the aircraft more efficient, he said.

The report also concluded the state’s aircraft were 32% more efficient than fractional aircraft (one that has multiple owners) and 44% more efficient than chartering a similar aircraft.

Gov. Mark Gordon’s spokesman Michael Pearlman pointed Cowboy State Daily to a comment the governor made to the outlet back in 2019, as he holds a similar stance today.

“Governor Gordon supports fiscal responsibility and the judicious use of taxpayer dollars,” Pearlman said at the time. “Several WYDOT studies have determined that owning state aircraft is more cost-efficient than private charters or driving vast distances.”

Pearlman added at the time Gordon advanced a budget proposal including more than $500 million in strategic cuts.

“Selling the state’s aircraft would do little to address the state’s budget shortfall,” Pearlman said.

Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, told Cowboy State Daily on Friday he introduced an amendment earlier this week requiring WYDOT to sell the jets, but it failed.

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Analysis: Who Uses the Wyoming State Plane the Most?

in Government spending/News/Transportation
Wyoming state plane
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

The state’s two twin-engine passenger jets — nicknamed “Wyoming’s Air Force” — spend most of their time ferrying state officials around Wyoming, but about 10 percent of the flights leave the state, according to state records.

“I don’t know the background of all the flights that are flown out of state,” said Brian Olsen, the Wyoming Department of Transportation aeronautics division administrator. “It could be cheaper (than driving), but I think a lot of it could have to do with scheduling.”

Although the planes are maintained by WYDOT, Olsen explained each state agency can use them.

“We submit two reports to our Transportation Commission, detailing how many flights the planes took and (which agency) used them,” he said.

However, WYDOT does not keep track of the reasons for the trips taken by other agencies.

Olsen said he was not aware of a specific organization or committee charged with overseeing who uses the planes for what.

Previously, Cowboy State Daily reported the jets cost about $1 million to operate and maintain each year and made 663 trips carrying 2,213 passengers during fiscal year 2018. WYDOT reported about 12 percent of those flights were out-of-state.

In fiscal year 2017, the two planes logged a total of 725 one-way legs and 2,294 passengers with about 10 percent of those flights leaving the state. During fiscal year 2016, they completed 852 legs carrying 2,604 passengers and about 10 percent of flights left the state.

The numbers for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 do not accurately reflect the planes’ usage, however, WYDOT spokesperson J. O’Brien said.

If members from two agencies board the same flight, WYDOT records the trip as two legs instead of one. Also, the passenger numbers for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 include flight and maintenance crew, which are not typically considered passengers. WYDOT listed nearly 30 categories of users for each of the three years, during all of which the department was the planes’ primary user. In fiscal year 2016, WYDOT used the planes for 246 legs, carrying 827 passengers. In fiscal year 2017, the department flew 834 passengers on 222 legs, and during fiscal year 2018, WYDOT reported using the planes for 224 legs, carrying 693.

The governor’s office is consistently the second-highest user when combined with the governor’s residence category, which is used to log the flights of Wyoming’s first lady.

In fiscal year 2016, the governor’s office logged 123 legs carrying 452 passengers, while the governor’s residence reported 21 legs carrying 39 passengers. During fiscal year 2017, the governor’s office was responsible for 127 legs carrying 439 passengers, and the governor’s residence logged 14 legs carrying 29 passengers. And in fiscal year 2018, the governor’s office reported 97 legs carrying 330 passengers, while the governor’s residence recorded 27 legs carrying 44 passengers.

The Office of the Governor, Mark Gordon, who took office in 2019, said in a prepared statement: “Governor Gordon supports fiscal responsibility and the judicious use of taxpayer dollars. Several WYDOT studies have determined that owning state aircraft is more cost-efficient than private charters or driving vast distances.

“With his demanding schedule and numerous commitments across the state, the governor utilizes air travel on a limited basis in order to conduct official duties and be as accessible as possible to all Wyoming citizens, not just those in Cheyenne,” the statement concluded.

In fiscal year 2016, the Wyoming Department of Corrections Parole Board tied with the University of Wyoming for third-most user of the planes with both logging 120 legs. WDOC’s legs carried 352 passengers, while UW carried 278.

Neither agency logged more than 100 legs in fiscal yer 2017, but in fiscal year 2018, UW ranked the third-highest user with 112 legs carrying 295 passengers.

UW also owns two Beechcraft King Air turboprop aircraft, UW spokesperson Chad Baldwin said. One is designated for research, and the other is used for transportation.

Olsen said legislators can also use the state’s passenger jets, but those occurrences are rare.

“If one of them were to use the planes, they would have to log it under an agency they are working with or the Wyoming Legislative Service Office (LSO),”  he explained.

The LSO logged 8 legs carrying 16 passengers in fiscal year 2016, and 8 legs carrying 14 passengers in fiscal year 2017. No trips were recorded by the LSO in fiscal year 2018.

In addition to carrying passengers, WYDOT Director and retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. K. Luke Reiner said the planes could be used during emergency situations.

“They can be used for emergency viewing of a wildfire,” Reiner said. “And, let’s say WYDOT needs to look at a flood area or mud slide, they could be used for that, too.”

Modern Marvel: 90-year-old plane takes to the Wyoming skies

in News/Transportation
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The eyes go the skies when vintage aircraft signal their arrival.

A group of experimental aviators made it to Casper this weekend to spread the joy of flight and show off a 90-year-oold passenger plane from the era of Charles Lindbergh.

Frank Gambino tells us the story of the Ford Tri-Motor airplane, nicknamed the Tin Goose.

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