ALBANY — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s use of state aircraft to or from his Westchester home and the required flights by state police to return to the Albany hangar likely cost over $1,300 an hour to operate, according to an aviation industry analysis.
Most of the 16 trips touching down in Westchester were added legs of tours to public events statewide to promote and discuss his cost-cutting budget and other initiatives. The three other trips were directly between Albany and Westchester.
The estimated cost of $13,000 over six months is a fraction of the state’s $132 billion budget, in which Cuomo forced billions of dollars in rare spending cuts and addressed an inherited $10 billion deficit.
But the use of state aircraft has dogged several governors. Rules that one government group criticized as unclear require a state official to reimburse the state for “mixed use.” However, any dispute over whether Cuomo’s trips to or from Westchester would be prohibited or require reimbursement would be up to the state Commission on Public Integrity.
The commission continued to have no comment Monday, one day after The Associated Press detailed the flights based on records obtained through the Freedom of Information Law.
Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said the state’s cost for the aircraft is lower because the state maintains a full-time staff and other factors. He wouldn’t provide another estimate.
Vlasto said Cuomo’s use of the aircraft is prudent.
He said from Jan. 1 to July 15, Cuomo spent 91 nights in Albany and traveled by car with state police drivers 50 times to and from Westchester.
“During that period, on rare occasions, use of the plane or helicopter was approved because the governor was required to stay in Albany to deal with urgent state business, but had a pressing engagement in Westchester that could not be moved,” Vlasto said. He wouldn’t describe Cuomo’s pressing issues back home.
“On three occasions he had urgent circumstances requiring the plane to allow him to do his job — in Albany — shows a major reform from past practices and obsessive concern for tax dollars,” Vlasto said.
One of the flights to return aircraft to Albany — known as “dead-head” trips — required because of Cuomo’s stops in Westchester was on May 18.
According to state records, one of the state’s turboprop airplanes left Albany at 10:40 a.m. for a press event in Saranac Lake with Cuomo and Vlasto aboard. At the stop on his “Peoples First Campaign,” the Democrat called for reining in school spending and a higher ethical standard in Albany. At 1:30 p.m., he and Vlasto departed, flying south past Albany to Westchester. State police then flew the plane back to its Albany hangar.
The Cuomo administration refused to provide a cost estimate of his air travel to The Associated Press in its Freedom of Information Law request.
The AP, however, matched the tail wing numbers of aircraft and a state police list of aircraft designed for passenger travel to identify the aircraft models used by Cuomo. Aviation consultant Bill deDecker of Conklin & deDecker, based in Orleans, Mass., said the model of the state’s helicopters cost $1,515 an hour to operate and the model of state planes cost about $1,332 per hour to operate, according to a database his company operates.
The estimate doesn’t include salaries or the cost of the aircraft.
The trip between Albany and Westchester takes about an hour by helicopter, 45 minutes by plane and about two hours by car.
In all, state records show Cuomo took three trips between Albany and Westchester. Vlasto said the trips don’t constitute commuting by state aircraft — which is prohibited — because it is rare, usually done as part of a statewide tour, and better serves the state.
According to state records:
On Jan. 19, Cuomo departed from the Albany helicopter pad at 2 p.m. to Westchester. He was the only passenger aside from state police.
March 22, Cuomo left Albany at 4:30 p.m. by helicopter for Westchester.
On Feb. 14, he took a state plane at 8 a.m. from Westchester to Albany for what Vlasto said was an important legislative meeting to revise the budget proposal and meet with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
A fourth trip, on April 2, was a Saturday. Cuomo spoke at the Somos El Futuro event in Albany organized annually by Latino legislators. Cuomo and several staffers left Westchester at 2:45 p.m. for Albany by helicopter. Cuomo and the staffers left Albany at 8:30 p.m. to return to Westchester.