AMES, Iowa – Iowa State University President Steven Leath took a short but pricey ride in a school airplane to the Des Moines airport at least once to catch a commercial flight.
Flight records released this week show that university pilots flew Leath and his wife from Ames to Des Moines on Feb. 17 in the school’s Beechcraft King Air.
Iowa State’s flight services program billed $380 for the 84-mile roundtrip — the standard charge of $4.52 per mile — to the “Greater University Fund,” a pot of unrestricted donations that Leath controls.
University officials claimed the 18-minute flight didn’t cost extra because the plane was already going to the Des Moines airport for maintenance that day. However, ISU flight services manager Dave Hurst said the work ultimately wasn’t performed and the plane had to return the following day.
“As it turned out, Elliott Aviation didn’t have the test apparatus or personnel available for the pressurization check flight,” Hurst wrote in an email. He said the decision was made to return to Ames, then fly back to Des Moines the next morning.
Hurst said the flight was incorrectly billed internally and should not have included any passenger charges even though the Leaths were on board. After their commercial flight to visit a donor, the Leaths’ returned on a donor’s airplane, Leath aide Megan Landolt said.
The university’s flight records posted online, in response to records requests, show a number of other King Air flights between Ames and Des Moines that are listed as maintenance-related. The university said Friday that Leath has not been flown to the Des Moines airport — a roughly 45-minute drive — for commercial flights on any other occasions.
Leath, who is a pilot, has faced questions about his use of university planes since The Associated Press revealed last month that he damaged the school’s single-engine plane in a hard landing on his way home from a vacation in North Carolina last year. The Iowa Board of Regents is expected to discuss the issue next week.
Leath used unrestricted donations to purchase that plane, then flew it while he trained to obtain an instrument rating under the instruction of a now-university vice-president who was hired without a search. He has also flown that plane on at least four trips that mixed official and personal business, reimbursing the school for costs.
Leath has acknowledged used the university’s larger King Air to give his brother and sister-in-law a ride to and from an NCAA basketball game, to get picked up at his North Carolina home and to go on fundraising trips with a celebrity bowhunter.
Leath told student government leaders earlier this month that he’d flown 63,000 miles so far this year commercially.
“Most of the time I go to Dallas, I’m like everybody else: I’m getting up at 3:30 in the morning, getting cleaned up, putting on a coat and tie and driving to Des Moines to catch that ridiculously early flight,” he said.