Archive for September 20, 2009

The Kessel NYPA Watch, September 20, 2009 – By George J. Marlin

September 20, 2009

The following essay by George J. Marlin, Air Kessel: Flying Large on the Taxpayer, appeared in the September 18-24, 2009 edition of the Long Island Business News.

The CEO eased back into the aisle seat of the new, multimillion-dollar turbo jet, in which he had spent many hours flying high above the teeming masses trapped on public transport, as the twin Pratt & Whitney engines screamed into action, thinking to himself that he had survived many challenges and was now finally able to enjoy the fruits of his labors.

Another episode of a pampered president of a profligate commercial bank bailed out by the Feds taking a jet to meet with his modestly paid civil service overseers?

No, as reported by the New York Post, this is the lifestyle enjoyed by civil servant Richie Kessel, chief executive of the New York Power Authority, a state agency dedicated to providing low cost power to upstate manufacturers and small business owners.

In the first six months of his regime, NYPA records show that Kessel has taken 34 separate flights on NYPA’s Hawker Beechcraft B300 twin-engine turbo prop totaling only 23.8 hours of flight time and an average trip length of only 141 miles, slightly longer than Long Island to Albany.

Despite the fact that JetBlue and other carriers fly to Albany, Buffalo and Rochester, Kessel has dozens of times left his home on the south shore of Long Island, less than a mile from the Long Island Railroad station and traveled to White Plains airport to board the NYPA corporate jet and travel 101 miles to the state capital in a style unknown to not only the woman on the street but also Sen. Schumer and upstate legislators.  As a result, Sen. George Maziarz has called for a state investigation of these flights.

In those six months, Kessel has routinely boarded the NYPA jet flown by two pilots (part of a pilot crew of four professionals) and jetted around the state. The manufacturer of the Hawker Beechcraft B300 (now known as a King Air 350 model) estimates that an hour of flight time burns about 380 gallons at 35,000 feet and boasts a maximum takeoff weight of 14,000 pounds. Add to that the cost of pilot time, capital costs, hanger costs and fixed-base operator costs, and the per-hour costs exceed thousands of dollars.

Nor was Kessel moved by the mega-carbon footprint that he creates every time he boards the NYPA jet. Traveling to Albany, a city well served by Amtrak and connected to Penn Station, the hub of the LIRR, is now beneath him. Despite a career spent claiming to be a defender of the environment, Richie flies private on the state taxpayer and NYPA ratepayer whenever he can, the ozone layer be damned.

No doubt Kessel’s flacks will defend his promiscuous use of the NYPA jet by arguing that Kessel’s time is valuable, that his “productivity” is enhanced by this well-earned perk, that perhaps security issues require this style of travel or that many NYPA meetings are called at the last minute requiring the use of Air NYPA.

Well, NYPA ratepayers shouldn’t buy any of that. Gov. Paterson, who appointed Kessel to his NYPA sinecure, must put Kessel back in the car and on the rails and to use the NYPA plane only for emergencies or sell it. More than 30 separate trips by a state functionary in six months are indefensible when farms are being foreclosed and small businesses are disappearing. In these tough economic times, Kessel should be grounded. Now.

One other policy observation. Sen. Schumer and the upstate state legislative delegation have rightfully decried the elimination of scheduled service to upstate cities by air carriers. Obviously, ending scheduled air service is a significant blow to any upstate town seeking to survive. Kessel’s publicly subsidized travels have contributed to that situation. Just in the last six months, the flights taken by Kessel and his airborne colleagues alone, if taken on JetBlue and other carriers, would have accounted themselves for hundreds of additional flights which might have made the difference between continuing these flights for the common good upstate and termination of scheduled service.