TVA’s $29M million aircraft fleet under attack (verbally)

A collection of consumer and environmental groups teamed Tuesday to blast TVA for spending millions on executive aircraft, contending they benefit wealthy executives, directors and business prospects at the expense of ordinary electric ratepayers, reports the Times Free Press.

TVA has spent nearly $29 million in the past two and a half years to buy nearly identical corporate jets and a specialized Mercedes-Benz Style helicopter formerly used by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The executive jets and helicopter are part of TVA’s overall aircraft fleet of nine active helicopters, airplanes and jets (plus a King Air 350 plane that TVA bought for $6.5 million and is now for sale). TVA employs five full-time pilots and aircraft supervisors and spends millions of dollars a year to operate its own aircraft.

…”Buying extravagant jets and helicopters is a hijacking of the TVA act, whose stated purpose is to protect the residential customers, not buy flashy toys for millionaire executives or cut backroom deals with private industry,” said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in Knoxville. “This is the very definition of corruption of the TVA mission and is ‘tone deaf’ to the needs of our region.”

Debbie Dooley, a tea party co-founder and president of Conservatives for Energy Freedom, said TVA directors and managers should be able to drive across TVA’s seven-state territory or fly on airplanes or commercial flights “like the rest of us do,” rather than using more expensive private jets or helicopters.

“The use of these jets and this luxury helicopter should not be acceptable to anyone and this is just further evidence that the self-regulated TVA monopoly is out of control, and CEO Bill Johnson needs to be replaced.”

Dooley suggested that just as the Trump White House forced former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price out of office last year over questions about his private jet travel, TVA should fire TVA CEO Bill Johnson for buying jets when TVA is cutting jobs and raising base electric rates.

“It is time we drained the swamp at the top of TVA, pure and simple,” she said.

But TVA officials insist its aircraft help the utility maintain its reliability and efficiency, and its executive aircraft is often used to help show off properties in the Tennessee Valley to recruit more business and jobs to the region.

Since 2013, when Johnson became CEO, TVA has cut its annual operating and maintenance costs by more than $800 million while recruiting more than $40 billion for new or expanded business in the Tennessee Valley.

Mike Skaggs, executive vice president for TVA, said TVA’s jets are safer and faster than the planes they replaced and are part of the utility’s effort to be more efficient. Skaggs also said TVA has fewer and smaller jets than the eight other comparable power utilities in the Southeast.

“The ownership of corporate aircraft is a standard industry practice,” Skaggs said. “When we look at our peer utilities in the Southeast and we compare ourselves to our closest peers, they all have more aircraft than we do and their aircraft is more often larger and more expensive than the ones we have. I certainly don’t think the number of our aircraft is out of line and I don’t think the type of aircraft we use is out of line compared with other utilities.”

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