Press "Enter" to skip to content

Private jets, public helicopters


Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s use of corporate jets and Park Service Police helicopters for what looks to be thinly disguised personal use has generated controversy, largely within the Beltway, and a formal investigation.

It has also led to several readers asking how the late Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus managed the matter during the four years he served as Secretary of the Interior for President Jimmy Carter. Besides being Director of the Office of Public Affairs, I also was Andrus’ press secretary which meant that I traveled when he traveled 95% of the time.

It is a fair question deserving an answer for it tells much about how one views public service and stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Keep in mind that the Interior department in the 1970’s had the eighth largest air fleet in the world. When one considers all the agencies and bureaus within the department, it is easy to see how this could be. For example, the Interagency Fire Center at the Boise Airport owns as well as charters a number of different planes in order to fulfill its firefighting role.

Andrus had a “common sense” rule. The cornerstone was to save the taxpayer dollar as often as possible. This meant well over 90% of the time when flying out of the nation’s capital we flew commercial airlines.

Not only that, we flew coach class and ever the politician who never missed an opportunity we had seats at the rear of the plane and boarded last (despite most airlines offering to let us board first) knowing that those on the flight who recognized the Interior secretary would also note him walking to the rear of the plane.

I can recall only four or five times chartering a corporate jet usually because there was an emergency of some sort that required his presence as soon as possible. In those instances Interior’s Air operations paid full boat for the charter unlike Congress which just required reimbursement comparable to what a round-trip ticket would cost.

The rare instances we chartered a private jet were:

    To get to Plains, Georgia for the interview with Carter we chartered Boise Cascade’s jet to get to Denver to catch the Northwest Orient flight to Atlanta.
    When one of the Andrus daughters was ill and hospitalized we had a chartered jet ready to get him from Seattle to Boise the second he deplaned an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage.
    During a campaign trip to Texas that ran late we chartered a jet to take us from College Station to Dulles in order to make an 8 a.m. meeting in the office the next day.
    When the department’s KingAir would not start one summer morning at the Bremerton Airport, I ordered up a jet from Boeing Field to come to Bremerton and pick us up and then fly to Boise for a noon meeting and speech before the Poacher’s Club.

Two prop planes were available for the secretary’s use when traveling in the west: an AeroCommander stationed in Denver and a KingAir stationed in Boise. These planes were only used for official business, never for personal use.

As Interior Secretary Andrus also had access to the fleet of executive jets kept at Andrews Air Force Base and at Hickam Field in Hawaii which ranged in size from small Saberliners to the presidential 707’s. All these planes had the colors and markings of Air Force One with the United States of America on each side of the fuselage.

We utilized the Saberliners twice to take Andrus and his key Alaska advisors to and from Alaska for official business related to passaage of the Alaska Lands legislation. We flew first class only once that I can recall when we flew Air New Zealand for the 14-hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland for a week long visit to New Zealand. While there the Prime Minister’s prop plane flew us to various destinations.

We then flew the vice president’s 707 back to Hawaii for a week long tour of the Trust Territories in the Pacific managed by Interior. During this week long show the flag tour we flew in a C-130 cargo plane. We added a stop on the atoll of Majuro in order to deliver emergency supplies to assist the inhabitants victimized by a sudden huge rogue wave that swept over the atoll.

I can state unequivocally we never used a Park Police helicopter period let alone for personal flights in and around the D.C. area.

The rule of common sense worked well. That coupled with an attitude towards public service that says you are privileged to serve and good service implicitly entails respecting access to taxpayer funded items. Andrus knew he was there to serve not to further his economic status by rationalizing personal use of private jets or public helicopters. Take note Secretary Zinke.

Share on Facebook