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"A Modest Proposal"
By Dave Kiffer

August 22, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - I think it's time that we should stop whupping Governor Murkowski upside the head for his desire for an official state jet plane.
jpg Dave Kiffer

If you think about it, it just plain makes sense that in a state the size of Alaska that we have a jet to get to and fro quickly. Truth is prop jets are too danged slow to make it from a fundraiser in Ketchikan to a fundraiser in Fairbanks and still get back to Juneau in time for last call at the Triangle.

Naysayers contend that the jet can only be landed on a handful of runways in the state, but that's just quibbling. Probably a bigger issue to the Governor is how the jet can be "converted" so it can access his favorite Southern Southeast location: Waterfall Resort.

I checked the jet company website and while the Westwind II has more options than a fully loaded Lamborghini, it can not be converted to "floats" without losing significant airspeed.

And after all, airspeed is what this is all about. Those turtle-speeded turbo-props just can't eat up the miles fast enough anymore and that's why the Governor prefers a Westwind II (airspeed roughly 520 mph). Of course, the commercial alternative (an Alaska Airlines 737-400) has an airspeed roughly 550 mph, but let's not be puckish, shall we?

Some cynics might say that the Governor just doesn't want to face the horror of "flying commercial" but I submit the real reason that the "executive" seats on the Westwind are nearly 1" wider than the first class seats on the Boeing. That accommodates an awful lot of government pork, but - once again - I digress.

When the idea for a state jet came up several months ago, my esteemed SITNEWS colleague Roger Maynard "unfairly" skewered it by suggesting the state just buy one of the new Airbus super jumbo jets which will hold some 550 passengers.

Hence you could put the big state officials and the Legislature (with aides and lobbyists!) all on the jet at the same time and fly them back and forth around the state.

Hence the state capitol would be whatever runway the plane happened to land on and "public access" would be greater than any fixed location capital.

Hence you would get rid of that nagging state capitol move question.

Sure that idea sounds brilliant, but the cost of an Airbus A-380 is a little steep (a couple of Euros north of $280 million) even for a state government drowning in the "bubbling crude."

So rather than spend $280 million for an A-380, the Governor is saving us a big chunk of change by only spending $2.7 million for a Westwind (and on "credit" no less!). That's very fiscally conservative of him.

But - and you knew this was coming - I have a modest proposal, I would like him to consider.

Nix the jet. Use the Kennicott!

In the old days - to quote former Sen. Robin Taylor - the state used to use all of its ferries year round (except for maintenance), but now it lays several of them up in the winter because the state really doesn't care if service is poor for us "non revenue generating" locals.

So, we obviously have excess capacity on the ferry system that we need use. What better way to use it than to make state government more "accessible to the people."

The best ship for the job would be the Kennicott because it can hold more than 700 passengers and has more than 300 berths and has a very "special" feature (see below). That's more than enough space for the Governor, his cabinet, his department heads, the Legislators, their staffs and a whole bunch of lobbyists.

Imagine the improvement in government services if the administrators and the legislators spent each legislative session sailing from one end of Alaska to the other! At the very least, the proponents of shorter Legislative sessions would get their way as soon as the Legislators had a taste of winter boat travel in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea.

But the best part of this proposal is that - for better or worse - we already own the Kennicott! Even at today's sky high diesel prices, $2.7 million buys a lot of fuel.

Of course there is a very big drawback to this proposal. The Kennecott has an "airspeed" of around 17 knots or about 19 to 20 miles per hour. That's more than enough "airspeed" to get a kite launched off the back deck, but it's probably not enough speed to get from one fundraiser to another and then back to make Last Call at the Triangle.

But there is a solution. One of the reasons that the Kennicott is just about the ugliest duckling afloat is that funky helicopter pad on its stern. Makes it look like it backed in to the dock one too many times.

The silver lining to using a blind naval architect to design a ship is that you could land a Harrier Jump Jet on the Kennicott, if the Governor really needs to get somewhere in a hurry.

The Harrier Jump Jet is not only a super cool vertical takeoff and landing military jet (who needs runways!), but it absolutely smokes the Westwind by topping out at more than 660 mph.

Best of all, who needs to haggle with the Legislature over the danged budget when you carry a full complement of 1,000 pound laser guided bombs and sidewinder missiles. (Digressed again!)

The one problem with the Harrier is that it's a tad more expensive that the Westwind, coming in a just over $30 million (armaments not included!). So we're back at the cost differential dilemma.

Perhaps, we could schedule fundraisers in each community as the "Ship of State" slowly winds its way along the coast (and maybe up some of the deeper rivers). If moving the capitol to Anchorage is going to cost a billion big ones, then maybe we can get various communities to pony up some dollars by promising to move the capitol to them on a regularly rotating basis. Spending $30 million to "move" the capitol could prove to be the biggest bargain in state history

Or maybe we could just charge the lobbyists twice as much to get off the boat as we charge them to get on. Hard to imagine them wanting to stay very long on a slow moving boat with a relatively limited "cocktail lounge."

But all this sordid talk of finances is making me my eyes glaze over faster than the Governor's attention "deficits" at a news conference. Let's cut to the chase.

The Kennicott can steam right up to the dock at Waterfall. Heck, you can even get in some "trolling" from the fan deck on the way down. You can't do that with a Westwind, even one on floats.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2005

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