Oklahoma State regents on Friday approved tougher oversight of the airplanes that employees use on official business following the death of women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and three others in a crash a year ago.
The new policy requires an aviation consultant to pre-approve any private aircraft and the pilot who’ll be flying it. It applies to all OSU employees, from coaches to administrators and student employees.
”We want, whoever they are and however they may travel, that they travel safely and that they come home safely,” said vice president and general counsel Gary Clark, chairman of the task force that put together the policy.
Budke, assistant Miranda Serna, pilot Olin Branstetter and his wife, Paula Branstetter, died on a recruiting trip to Arkansas last year. A federal report on the cause of the crash is pending, but weather has been ruled out as a factor.
Clark said he didn’t know whether that flight would have been approved under the current policy. At a minimum, the plane’s maintenance records and the pilot’s history would have been checked before takeoff. A pilot will have the final say when it comes to weather conditions.
”We didn’t really try to look at or address our policy to that accident. What we were looking at were the general safety standards that are out there,” Clark said.
Oklahoma State had already instituted a policy for team travel following a 2001 plane crash that resulted in the deaths of 10 men associated with the Cowboys basketball team on their way back from a game at Colorado. Clark said that policy had been interpreted over the years to allow coaches to control their own travel without the team, and it was amended in 2004 in an attempt to clarify that stance.
”From the very beginning, the actual practice has been that it has been the coaches’ discretion,” Clark said.
That no longer will be the case. Wrestling coach John Smith, women’s tennis coach Chris Young and athletic director Mike Holder were part of the task force, and Clark said others were consulted during the drafting of the policy.
”The coaches probably would have preferred to have something that allowed them greater latitude than what the policy provides,” Clark said. ”I think it may limit them to some extent, but we think that the limits are reasonable under the circumstances.”
The policy specifically prohibits travel on home-built and light sport aircraft, but no other planes are specifically prohibited. There are requirements that must be met for single-engine planes.
The aviation consultant’s approval of an aircraft or a pilot will be good for six months before another round of checks will be needed.
”In order to avoid some kind of disruption of their plans, we’re going to encourage them to plan well ahead of time,” Clark said.
Clark added that the coaches involved suggested a change to the team travel policy, which currently would require a stop-over if a team drove to Austin, Texas – home of Big 12 foe Texas – because it is about 30 minutes outside the current maximum.
”I think we’re going to look at those and see if, in the process, the lines may have been drawn that didn’t really work as well as maybe what we had in mind,” Clark said. ”We’ll at least look at those. I can’t say that those changes will be made.”
Although the policy takes effect immediately, Clark said some time will be needed to choose the aviation consultant and get the pre-approval process started.
There are no specific penalties laid out for violating the policy.
”Basically what we would want to do is have the supervisor to look at the seriousness of the violation and have an appropriate discipline action taken, whatever that might be,” Clark said.