EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State University has paid more than $72,000 for flights provided by the Michigan Department of Transportation since the agency resumed offering them to state universities in October, according to a newspaper's review of state records.
The flights come after MDOT suspended such flights for about four months last year after the Federal Aviation Administration launched an investigation of the state's use of its planes, the Lansing State Journal (http://on.lsj.com/1lnOE3M ) reported.
The FAA hasn't disclosed the focus of its review. Officials have said the FAA might be concerned that the athletic department isn't eligible to use state planes because it is a self-sustaining division of the university, and that MDOT should have a certificate to provide services outside state government.
MDOT officials have said they haven't violated federal regulations by allowing Michigan State University coaches to use the state's passenger planes for recruiting trips.
The state initially planned to suspend the flights pending the end of the FAA's review, but MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson said the agency decided to resume flights after the state attorney general's office found that MDOT's policy complied with FAA regulations.
Cranson said because MDOT planes are operated as civil aircraft under FAA regulations, and because state colleges and universities are legally defined as state government entities, there is "no basis to restrict their use as customers of the service."
The FAA investigation is ongoing, said agency spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory.
The university's athletics department employees, including coaches, took 23 flights between Oct. 30 and March 31, costing $72,779, according to quarterly reports prepared by MDOT. Passengers included men's basketball coach Tom Izzo, football coach Mark Dantonio and women's basketball coach Suzy Merchant.
According to the school's athletic department, officials said the flights often are taken for recruiting purposes. Officials said that the department pays the state for use of the planes, and state funds and tuition dollars aren't used to pay for the flights.
MDOT makes its four passenger planes available to state employees and employees of Michigan's 15 four-year public universities who can justify the cost of traveling in them for work purposes. Any university or state department that uses the planes reimburses MDOT for the expense.
Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com