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Missouri Senator’s Private Plane Becomes a Montana Air Ambulance

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We at AAW don’t usually report on political matters (other than, say, that shutdown of the FAA a few short months ago), but, as you can tell from the blog title, this particular current event has a unique twist that ties it to the air ambulance world. Claire McCaskill, the senior senator from Missouri (D), has finally sold a private plane co-owned by her, her husband, and their friends following a recent political quagmire centered around the plane.

McCaskill and her husband had reportedly failed to pay Missouri’s notorious personal property tax on the plane (which, technically, is registered in Delaware), drawing strong criticism from political opponents. In addition, a government audit showed that the Senator used the plane for over 90 reimbursed official and political business flights between Washington D.C., St. Louis, and other sites in Missouri.

Last April, McCaskill announced she had “convinced [her] husband to sell the damn plane” after this series of revelations about her and the plane began causing more turbulence than the 2001 Pilatus PC-12 was worth.

First, she repaid the government $88,000, after being reimbursed for her use of the plane on official and political business. (Under the current Senate rules, such reimbursement is permitted for official travel but not for political travel.) This was done to calm the political backlash, though, according to McCaskill’s Senate office, all but 1 of the 90 flights were valid for Senate reimbursement.

Next, McCaskill paid close to $320,000 in late Missouri personal property taxes (including penalties and interest) owed on the aircraft to the St. Louis county tax collector.

The fixed-wing turboprop aircraft was sold for nearly $2 million to a Montana air ambulance organization. At that sale price, McCaskill lost quite a bit of money, but she hopes her direct actions will help her in the upcoming 2012 election race. Her opponents in the upcoming race have been shelling out quite a bit of flak about the aircraft debacle already, having dubbed the plane “Air Claire.”

Whether the Montana-based emergency air ambulance operator who now owns the fixed-wing aircraft will keep the name “Air Claire” is any one’s guess.

Pilatus PC-12 Air Ambulance

A Pilatus PC-12 turboprop aircraft, the same model as Senator McCaskill’s former plane (now functioning as a fixed-wing air ambulance).

The private plane issue is the only real embarassment or “scandal” that the Missouri senator has experienced during her years in the Senate so far. In recent months, her use of the $2 million plane has been her opponents’ primary target. Those running against her for the Senate seat have tried to paint themselves as middle-class individuals, connected to the “average working joe,” unlike the incumbent Senator with her private plane.

The political arena is often just that, an arena. Fittingly, politics is often a savage game – especially as election time draws near. At the very least least, this year, an air ambulance organization got a new air ambulance out of the deal; for less than it might normally have cost.

Plus, it provides an interesting story to tell patients while they’re in transport. “The comfortable air ambulance you’re flying in used to be owned by the first woman to be elected to the Senate from Missouri. You see–”

Northeast Montana Stat Air Ambulance Cooperative, the charitable air ambulance operator that now owns the plane, has certainly benefited from the abrupt deal (which thereby benefits the residents of Northeast Montana as well). It remains to be seen how Missourians will react to the maneuver.

Montana, like McCaskill’s home state of Missouri, is a mountainous region where air ambulances are especially useful for transporting patients from remote, rural areas to advanced healthcare facilities located in the cities. Mountainous regions present an obvious challenge for ground ambulances, which may have to navigate steep, winding, even treacherous roadways to transport trauma patients from far-off locations. In many situations dealing with trauma patients in areas such as these, air ambulance transport can thus be a safer, inherently faster alternative to attempting ground transport through the mountains.

McCaskill’s former plane will join an existing air medical fleet that includes two Cessna 421C fixed-wing air ambulances (Source: http://www.city-data.com/aircraft/air-Glasgow-Montana.html).

Editor’s Note: As a personal aside, I feel compelled to mention here that I was once driving behind Claire McCaskill in my car for several blocks through a quiet residential area in Springfield, Missouri. No, she wasn’t in her plane at the time – in fact, I can’t remember what she was driving, other than that it appeared to be a modest convertible with fabric top and a Senator plate. She just happened to be driving along the exact same route I was also taking to get back to my place of residence.

As we waited for one agonizingly long red light to change – just the senator and I, alone in our cars, trying to make it across Main Street U.S.A. in the late afternoon – I recall both of us looking to the east to watch an air ambulance lift off from its pad atop St. John’s Hospital – much like the American bald eagle ascending from its nest atop a majestic old-growth tree, an olive branch in one claw and a bundle of arrows clutched tightly in the other. Now, four years later, here we are again. Coincidence?

Yes.

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