Skinner Says He Broke No Rules By Piloting Government Jets
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner flew more than 200 hours as a co-pilot in small government jets over the last three years, in part to maintain his proficiency as a pilot.
The flights were all paid for by the government, but Skinner denied he violated any White House or Federal Aviation Administration rules.
Responding to questions, the Transportation Department said Skinner has logged about 212 hours overall as a co-pilot on FAA seven-seat, Cessna Citation jets since becoming secretary in February 1989.
Most of these flying hours were accumulated aboard FAA aircraft transporting Skinner to one or more destinations as part of his official schedule, the department said.
It said Skinner also logged about 47 hours in the cockpit of FAA aircraft solely to maintain his proficiency as a pilot as part of a longstanding FAA program.
In an interview, Skinner said the program is long established effort to help senior managers and policy makers maintain their flying skills while giving them better understanding of the aviation safety and air traffic control systems they manage.
CBS television news said Tuesday night that what it called Skinner’s ″flying lessons″ violate White House regulations in that he often used government jets instead of flying commercial.
The network also declared that Skinner’s flights violate FAA rules that government planes and instructors not be used ″to provide basic flight instruction or to substantially upgrade pilot skills.″
In the interview, Skinner denied he broke any rules, White House or otherwise.
″There are no White House guidelines that cover this and there are no violations of guidelines or regulations or rules,″ he said.
Skinner said he flies FAA aircraft as part of the FAA’s flight proficiency program involving 1,400 FAA and Transportation officials and employees nationwide, 65 of them in Washington.
Skinner, who has held a private pilot’s license since 1977, said he was not receiving flying lessons but was only logging the hours of flight needed to maintain his proficiency. He said he has not attempted to upgrade his license.
″Most of those participating in the program are in policy positions and they participate to understand the system better and to make better policy decisions,″ he said.
″And obviously the final decision maker on all aviation policies is me.″
″In addition to allowing me to make better informed decisions on aviation issues in the safety and air traffic areas, it’s allowed me to develop or restore the relationship between general aviation and the secretary’s office as well as with the FAA,″ he said.
Skinner’s said his participation in the flight program was authorized by FAA Administrator James B. Busey.
″I follow the same rules that the other 1,400 people in the department do,″ Skinner said. ″That means I have to check out in the aircraft and continue to maintain my skills to fly it safely; all of this is done pursuant to department regulations and policy.″
Skinner was asked if he was concerned his flight proficiency is paid for at taxpayer expense.
The secretary, who said he logged 65 trips last year, said nearly half of his travel is on commercial planes or on chartered aircraft paid for by Republican organizations.
″This is not any different than previous secretaries have done,″ he said. ″It enables me to accomplish a lot in a short period of time and go to places I couldn’t otherwise get to.″
″My management style is hands on,″ Skinner said. ″I have 100,000 people outside Washington who work for me in 1,600 locations. And I think it’s important to be there, meet with them and find out what’s going on. So I travel quite a bit.″
Skinner was asked if he is concerned that criticism of trips aboard military aircraft made by White House Chief of Staff John Sununu may result in the crimping of his own travel, or that of other cabinet members.
″I think obviously everybody is concerned about the attention this issue has received,″ Skinner replied.
″But the fact is that our records are an open book; there are no secrets here,″ he said.