OSU travel standards different for players, coaches

22 Nov

Had the plane crash that resulted in the deaths of Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant Miranda Serna, former Oklahoma senator Olin Branstetter and his wife Paula not happened, the Piper PA-28 that carried those four might have been considered a perfectly capable aircraft. However, for student athletes to fly on it would have been a violation of the university’s team travel policies.

Why, then, was it allowed to carry adults from the staff?

For a plane to carry student athletes, it must have two pilots, and the captain must be employed as a full-time pilot. I know 82-year-old Branstetter and his 79-year-old wife had each flown for many years, and reports say both their licenses were current, but to the best of my knowledge, they were not professional pilots.

Also, even in the “other aircraft” section of OSU’s travel policy, which allows coaches and other staff members to fly more freely, it specifies that this is permissible given “the aircraft are powered by two or more turbine engines.” The Piper that went down with those four on Nov. 17 was a single-engine plane.

The issue here, of course, and the reason for OSU’s restrictions on the type of planes allowed to carry student athletes, is that whenever there is a single pilot or single engine, there is no redundancy. If something happens to the sole pilot, there is no one to control the plane. If an engine blows, there is no backup. Redundancy enhances safety.

So again: Why is a plane that is not considered safe enough to put student athletes on considered good enough to put other athletic staff members on?

Also, reports have cited FAA records indicating that the plane was built in 1964. That makes it well past its 45th birthday. I don’t know much about the lifespan of single-engine planes, but I do know that if your car is over 25 years old it is considered an antique.

Getting on single-engine, single-pilot aircraft is something that is not uncommon in the coaching world. At his press conference today, Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder reflected on some of his own experiences of the airborne variety.

“I’ve been guilty of getting on planes just to go help someone in a single-engine aircraft with an individual pilot, and there’s been times that I’ve said, ‘Why am I getting on this plane? Why am I doing that?’” Snyder said. “It makes you think. It truly does.”

“Whatever it is that creates security and safeness for whoever happens to be a passenger or a pilot, is the best direction to go.”

Hopefully OSU – and other universities – will tighten up restrictions on air travel for coaches and staff members as much as they do for players. Recruiting is an essential part of any sport, but ensuring the safety of all employees should be the priority.

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