Governor Kristi Noem’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022 has a lot to analyze. But let’s start with the slide she tucked into the bottom half of her presentation to the Legislature today declaring that she needs a new plane:
Like virtually all other states, South Dakota maintains a small fleet of aircraft for use by state officials and employees. The fleet is also used to respond to fires in the Black Hills.
Our state currently has three aircraft that are an average of 26 years old.
To help ensure the safety of all state officials who utilize this fleet, I recommend that we purchase a newer plane. Simultaneously, I am recommending that the state sell two of our older planes. This downsizing from three to two planes will be much more efficient for the state in the long run. As planes age, they require more frequent, complex, and very expensive maintenance.
The State’s top priority when considering aircraft must be safety. We all know that South Dakota tragically lost a governor, two state commissioners, three chief executives, and two pilots, 27 years ago. They died in service to our great state. While our state lost profound dignitaries in that crash, their families lost so much more. The plane we currently fly is the same plane purchased after that crash.
I’m recommending we invest $5 million to purchase a newer airplane. Combined with the sale of two older planes, again, this will be a safer and more cost-effective path forward for the state’s air fleet [Gov. Kristi Noem, FY 2022 Budget Address, as published in that Sioux Falls paper, 2020.12.08].
Coronavirus has killed 1,111 South Dakotans in less than a year and is infecting and killing more as we speak, but the only new spending Governor Noem recommends to respond to that grave public health threat is $5 million in grants to help upgrade local butcher shops to process and sell more local meat. But eight guys died 27 years ago when a state plane crashed, and Governor Noem invokes that long-ago threat as justification for her investment of an equivalent amount of money in a cushier plane to take her around the state and likely around the country for her 2024 Presidential campaign.
We know what you’re up to, Kristi.
But Kristi’s invocation of Saint George reminds us what happens when government doesn’t take safety seriously. Two years before the only fatal loss of a South Dakota state plane ever, a similar Mitsubishi MU-2B threw a propeller blade, which pierced the fuselage. The National Transportation and Safety Board recommended inspections of all Mitsubishi MU-2B-60 propeller hubs. But government didn’t act on this clear safety hazard:
The NTSB however didn’t have the power to order the inspections. That authority rested with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Months passed. Nothing happened.
Finally on Jan. 4, 1993, the FAA’s then-administrator, Thomas Richards, responded to the NTSB recommendation. Special inspections weren’t necessary, he told the NTSB.
The NTSB’s then-chairman, Carl Vogt, didn’t accept that answer. He repeated the recommendation for inspections in letters to the FAA again on Jan. 6, 1993, and on March 4, 1993.
That last letter was just six weeks before the South Dakota MU-2B-60 was flying back from a meeting in Cincinnati….
Ignoring the MU-2B-60 recommendation was senseless, deadly and truly tragic. The pilots allowed to handle the planes were professionals in the highest sense.
Not telling them to have the prop hubs checked for cracks was criminal. Their government knowingly let them put their lives and their passengers’ lives at risk [Bob Mercer, “The Real Tragedy of the 1993 Crash Was People Knew and Didn’t Warn,” Black Hills Pioneer, 2012.04.12].
Governor Noem is very good at learning the lessons of history she wants but ignoring the lessons of history that we really need.