Iowa State spent $12,000 after President Leath's hard aircraft landing

Leath has reimbursed the university for trips involving personal business

Iowa State University President Steven Leath speaks during a Gazette editorial board meeting at The Gazette and KCRG-TV9 building in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, March 04, 2015. (Michael Noble Jr./The Gazette)
Iowa State University President Steven Leath speaks during a Gazette editorial board meeting at The Gazette and KCRG-TV9 building in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, March 04, 2015. (Michael Noble Jr./The Gazette)

AMES — Iowa State University President Steven Leath is a licensed pilot certified to fly one of the two ISU-owned aircraft, and on four occasions he used the single-engine plane for trips “that were a combination of university business and personal business,” according to an ISU statement Friday.

“Even though each of these trips had a component of university business associated with them, President Leath reimbursed the university for the costs of these trips,” according to the statement, which was released in response to questions from the media following statements Leath made during his annual address Sept. 14.

The reimbursement amount was based on a predetermined cost formula developed by ISU Flight Service. ISU spokesman John McCarroll did not immediately provide the total cost of the four trips but said Leath reimbursed the university $4,637 for the aircraft use.

Details of those trips — including when and where they occurred, what type of business was involved, and when Leath provided the reimbursements — were not immediately available.

On one of those four trips in July 2015, Leath while flying the university’s single-engine Cirrus SR22 encountered a microburst — a localized downdraft within a thunderstorm. That resulted in a “hard landing” at the Bloomington, Ill. airport that caused a wing flap to clip a runway light, according to the university news release.

“While the aircraft remained airworthy, relevant repairs costing approximately $12,000 were subsequently made to the aircraft and were covered using non-general fund resources,” according to the university.

McCarroll said the $12,000 came from “university discretionary funds consisting of interest on earnings.”


No one was injured in the accident, and Leath reported the incident to the airport control tower and to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Iowa State has owned and operated transportation aircraft since the 1950s, but officials say they’ve gotten questions about Leath’s use of the aircraft because he holds an FAA pilot certification and instrument rating.

Leath, according to the statement, has been a pilot for more than a decade — receiving his initial training in North Carolina and getting additional training since arriving at Iowa State in 2012. University officials said he occasionally piloted the Cirrus SR22 for university business and for flight training required by the FAA and the university insurer.

The four trips for which he reimbursed the university were those that also involved personal business, according to the statement.

Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter on Friday released a statement affirming he’s aware of Leath’s use of the university plane.

“He is a licensed pilot and can fly aircraft for which he is certified,” Rastetter said in the statement.

Rastetter also issued a statement on Iowa State’s relationship with the City of Ames regarding a $4.4 million Ames Municipal Airport development project that is costing the university hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“I fully support economic development efforts between our universities and their local communities,” Rastetter said in the statement. “Partnerships such as the agreement between Iowa State University and the city of Ames on the continued development of the city’s airport are critical to help encourage growth.”


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Iowa State has been working with Ames since 2013 on improvements to the airport — specifically a new terminal building and large hanger, according to the ISU news release. Growth at Iowa State’s nearby research park, on the main campus, and in the community at large prompted discussions about the need for such improvements.

The city, Iowa State, and private entities reached an agreement in 2015 to share the cost of improvements, and Leath mentioned the airport changes during his annual address earlier this month.

“Adjacent to the (research) park, the Ames airport renovations, including a new terminal, hangar and fixed base operator will soon offer more inviting, convenient access to our university and community,” Leath said in his prepared remarks.

According to the agreement, the city and private businesses will cover about $4.15 million of the $4.4 million total cost. Iowa State is responsible for the remaining $250,000. It’s also agreed to pay the city the amount of any shortfall between the airport’s annual operating revenue and annual operating expenses up to the airport’s annual debt obligation created by the funding of the terminal. The annual maximum will be $66,000

“Based upon the improvements made at the airport, and anticipated growth in utilization and fuel sales, we do not anticipate ISU’s annual obligation to exceed $25,000 in the first few years,” according to the ISU news release. “Beyond that point, we anticipate that revenues will be in excess of the annual debt obligation, and in that case, a portion of that net excess will be credited back to Iowa State.”

Although the university’s investment in the airport is “significant,” officials said the new terminal and hanger “will provide a more suitable and safe environment for flight operations of which our athletic teams and university personnel use on a regular basis as well as business leaders who are considering locating in the research park or Ames community.”

ISU’s Flight Service also is based on the Ames airport. The university has three trained pilots who regularly operate its two aircraft, which were acquired using unrestricted private funds managed by the ISU Foundation.

Officials reported the foundation bought one of the aircraft and gifted it to the university, and ISU bought the other.


“No taxpayer money was used to acquire either aircraft,” according to the ISU release. “The Board of Regents executive director was notified of both aircraft purchases.”

The planes, officials said, are available to all ISU units and facilitate “efficient, flexible, and cost-effective travel by university officials.” ISU’s Athletics Department is one of the key units that relies “heavily” on ISU Flight Service.

Specifically, coaches often use Flight Service operations during the student-athlete recruitment process,” according to the news release. “President Leath also relies on ISU Flight Service as an important tool to enhance his ability to conduct the business of the university across Iowa and the country and to connect with important partners, alumni, and friends of Iowa State.”


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