President Leath's use of University Flight Service

Frequently Asked Questions

Iowa State University has received multiple public records requests from the media and other individuals pertaining to ISU Flight Service and President Leath’s use of university aircraft. In an effort to be open and efficient, we have developed the following FAQ with links to requested documents.

1. Why does the university own airplanes?

Iowa State has owned and operated transportation aircraft for university use since the 1950s. The aircraft are available to all Iowa State units and are important to facilitate efficient, flexible, and cost-effective travel by university officials. The primary unit that relies heavily on ISU Flight Service operations is the Iowa State Athletics Department. Specifically, coaches often utilize Flight Service operations during the student-athlete recruitment process. 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. Many of these trips are associated with fundraising, which has become an increasingly important responsibility of university presidents.

2. When did the University purchase the planes it now has?

The university currently owns two aircraft: 1) a Beechcraft King Air 350 (twin engine), which was purchased in February 2014; and 2) a Cirrus SR22 (single engine) which was purchased in July 2014.

3. How much did the university aircraft cost?

It was initially reported that the cost of the King Air 350 was $2.4 million. That figure was based on incomplete information from ISU Flight Service that included the purchase price of the aircraft plus the expense of certain after-purchase upgrades minus a credit for the sale of the old plane. There was no attempt to mislead anyone. The King Air 350 was purchased for $2,875,000 by the Iowa State University Foundation. After the purchase, avionics upgrades, inspections, safety improvements, maintenance, refurbishment, branding and paint totaling $595,568 were made to the King Air using the same discretionary funds that were used by the ISU Foundation to purchase the plane; those funds are designated for Department of Athletics’ priorities (see question 5).

The bulk of the total includes the G1000 Avionics system at a cost of $327,213. This includes communications, navigation, monitoring, flight-control, collision-avoidance, and weather radar systems, which are essential for the operation and safety of the aircraft. Also included in the total was the ROSENVIEW VX Combination Moving Map and DVD player, audio and video distribution amplifiers, display and base, receiver, and remote ($50,960), and the Aircell ATG-2000 high-speed internet system ($79,338). These items were installed at the same time because installation with the other upgrades was more cost-effective than adding these items later. The moving map system was installed to allow passengers to track the progress of the flight, including distance, landmarks, arrival time, etc. on their own without constant disruptions to the pilot in-flight, therefore, also offering an important safety component. The high-speed internet system costs $2,595 per month and was installed to allow passengers to access internet on board, enabling them to conduct work in-flight. This adds to the efficiency of university aircraft as it allows passengers to work during travel time. These specific upgrades were also completed with the same consideration given when upgrading athletics and other facilities: first-rate facilities for our faculty, staff, administrators, students, athletes and coaches is an important component for recruitment and other success. All of the upgrades were made using the same discretionary funds designated for Department of Athletics’ priorities that were used by the ISU Foundation to purchase the plane. (Attached: Invoice)

Pursuant to an agreement between the ISU Foundation and the university, title to the aircraft was transferred directly from the seller to the university. The old King Air 200 was sold for $835,000. (Attached copies: Aircraft Purchase Agreement | Aircraft Listing and Sales Proceeds Agreement | Aircraft Acquisition Agreement).

The Cirrus was purchased by the university for $470,000 plus the trade-in value of an older plane owned by the university, which had a trade-in value of $28,000. (Attached: Cirrus purchase agreement.)

Cost breakdown of the King Air 350

Purchase price:$2,875,000
Upgrades:$595,568
Less sale of King Air 200:($835,000)
Total net cost of King Air 350:$2,635,568

4. Was the Cirrus plane purchased so President Leath could fly it?

No. The Cirrus was purchased to replace an existing older aircraft. The Cirrus was primarily purchased because it was safer, faster, and more efficient than the small aircraft previously owned by the university.

5. Where did the money come from to pay for the airplanes and why did the university purchase them?

The university owned a 1977 Beechcraft King Air and a 1978 four-seater Piper PA 28-161. Both aircraft were in desperate need of efficiency and safety upgrades. Upgrading the King Air was a priority for the athletics department as that unit is one of the primary users of the plane. The discretionary funds that were used by the ISU Foundation to purchase the 2002 King Air were designated for Department of Athletics’ priorities. The plane was purchased for $2.875 million. The Board of Regents was notified prior to the purchase. This was not subject to formal Board approval since the purchase was made by the ISU Foundation. (Attached: Note from SVP Warren Madden.) The old King Air was sold for more than $800,000 immediately after the purchase of the new aircraft. (Attached: Old King Air sale agreement.)

The purchase of the Cirrus SR22 was a unique opportunity. President Leath was told the previous owners – a husband and wife – were big Iowa State fans. The husband passed away shortly after they bought the plane, and the wife thought it would be nice to sell it to someone with Iowa State ties. The university received a call about this unique opportunity and was offered the plane at an exceptional price. The four-seater Piper was traded in and the Cirrus was purchased for $470,000. This purchase did not meet the threshold to require formal approval from the Board of Regents; however, the Board was notified of the purchase ahead of time. (Attached: Note from SVP Warren Madden.)

The funds that were used to purchase the Cirrus came from private discretionary sources for the institutional head to commit at his/her discretion. Donors who contribute to these funds do so with the intent that the president will have flexibility and discretion on how best to use the resources to benefit the university. These are not scholarship dollars, faculty position dollars or capital improvement dollars, nor are these state funds or tuition or fees. These are donations made specifically for the president’s discretionary use.

6. Was any taxpayer money used to purchase the plane?

No. Both airplanes were purchased with discretionary funds managed by the Foundation.

7. Who pilots the airplanes?

University Flight Service has three full-time pilots. These pilots are ISU employees who are certified to fly both the King Air and the Cirrus aircraft. President Leath is certified to pilot the Cirrus aircraft. (Attached: Information about pilots.)

8. How did President Leath get qualified to fly the University plane?

President Leath has been fully certified to fly single-engine aircraft for nearly ten years. To enhance his skills in the Cirrus aircraft and obtain his instrument flight rating, he took lessons from Classic Aviation in Pella primarily under the instruction of Kendall Arkema from Oct. 2012-Oct. 2014. The university has not paid for any flight training received by President Leath. President Leath is certified to fly the university-owned Cirrus SR22 in compliance with the university’s insurance policy. Pursuant to the policy, some of his training was required to be done in the Cirrus owned by the university. (Insurance policy information is contained in question 11.)

9. Did President Leath receive flight training from Jim Kurtenbach?

Yes. In late 2014, Kendall Arkema was unavailable to complete the remainder of President Leath’s required training. Jim Kurtenbach, who is one of the most respected pilots in the state, offered to give him lessons. President Leath took lessons under Jim from Oct. 18, 2014, to Jan. 12, 2015. The university has not paid for any flight training received by President Leath.

10. Did the fact that President Leath received flight training from Jim Kurtenbach play any role in him being hired as interim Chief Information Officer?

No. Prior to President Leath’s first lesson from Kurtenbach, Provost Jonathan Wickert had spoken with Kurtenbach about the potential for him to return to the university on an interim basis to help fill important administrative needs. Provost Wickert had worked closely with Kurtenbach when Kurtenbach served as Associate Dean in the College of Engineering and reported to Wickert, who was then dean. Kurtenbach initially joined the ISU faculty in 1991, received tenure as an associate professor, and over the years has established himself as an effective teacher, administrator and leader. President Leath was not involved in any discussions between Provost Wickert and Kurtenbach about Kurtenbach returning to the university. Provost Wickert consulted with President Leath about Kurtenbach, but it was Provost Wickert’s decision to offer Kurtenbach the position as interim CIO following the then-CIO’s plan to step down.

Before starting in his new role, Kurtenbach informed President Leath that he would have some time to provide flight lessons. Kurtenbach started as interim CIO at Iowa State on Jan. 4, 2015. (Kurtenbach performed some part-time work in December 2014 as a special assistant to Provost Wickert, helping to prepare information for the Board of Regents TIER study.) Within the first week of his full-time employment at the university, President Leath completed his final lesson, and he has not taken another lesson from Kurtenbach since that time. President Leath took flight lessons from Kurtenbach beginning in mid-October 2014 and ending in early January 2015.

A 2014 news release explains the process of Kurtenbach’s hiring as interim CIO. Kurtenbach did not permanently become Chief Information Officer until July 1, 2016, nearly 18 months after President Leath’s last lesson from him. The fact that President Leath took some flight lessons from Kurtenbach had absolutely nothing to do with his university employment. To suggest otherwise ignores Kurtenbach’s stellar qualifications, which include his service as associate dean in the College of Engineering, his leadership roles in several technology companies, and his demonstrated excellence as interim CIO.

11. Is President Leath an authorized pilot on the university’s insurance policy?

Yes. President Leath has been an authorized pilot of the Cirrus aircraft since it was purchased. Attached are the university insurance policies covering the university aircraft: 2014 | 2015 | 2016. President Leath is not certified to fly the King Air and has not done so.

11A. Why did the insurance premium increase, and why did Iowa State switch aviation insurance carriers in 2016?

Because they are higher-valued assets, the two newer aircraft purchased in 2014 cost more to insure than the two aircraft they replaced.

The university switched insurance carriers in 2016 because it was determined the university could get better coverage at a lower premium from Catlin Insurance.

12. Did university officials, the Board of Regents and the public know that President Leath was flying university owned aircraft?

Yes. In fact, at the time of his hire, there was much media coverage of the fact that President Leath is a licensed pilot. In 2013, there was an extensive article published by the Des Moines Register that talked about President Leath’s piloting of both private and university-owned planes. It was reported that President Leath’s ability to fly was considered an asset because it allowed for more flexibility and efficiency in his schedule. As a result, President Leath’s use of university-owned aircraft as both a pilot and passenger was widely known – by the Board of Regents, stakeholders, and Iowans. (Attached: 2013 Des Moines Register article).

13. Why did President Leath fly the plane at all?

President Leath’s primary reason for using university aircraft is to connect with supporters and prospective donors across Iowa and the country. Fundraising is largely a relationship-based function. It takes time to cultivate relationships and build trust with donors; often it takes four or five meetings over one or two years to establish a relationship with a major prospect. This relationship-building is done at ISU Foundation events, athletic events, events at the president’s campus home (The Knoll), donors’ homes across the country, as well as President Leath’s cabin in North Carolina. Opening the Leaths’ home in North Carolina has provided a unique opportunity and venue to develop relationships with prospective donors. Following a nearly 30-year successful career in North Carolina, President Leath has been able to nurture that existing network and generate new support to benefit the university.

Over the past four and a half years, President Leath’s efforts to connect and build relationships with donors has proven very successful and beneficial to the university. The university has raised more than $600 million in private support – the largest four and a half year fundraising total in Iowa State history – including more than $200 million that directly supports scholarships and student support and programs. As a result, 23,000 more students have received scholarships and support, which has helped contribute to an 8.5 percent decline in student debt for Iowa State graduates; 35 named faculty positions have been established, which provide additional financial resources to support research programs or other scholarly activity; and the $27 million renovation of Marston Hall and the $60 million construction of the new south end zone at Jack Trice Stadium were also made possible, in part, by private funds raised during President Leath’s tenure.

14. Where has the King Air plane flown since it was purchased?

Attached are records showing the details of the King Air flights by year. These records were created for interdepartmental charges for the use of the King Air. The data contained in the following records -- 2014 | 2015 | 2016 -- was pulled directly from the ISU Flight Service database (BART system). We have since received questions about discrepancies in what is listed in these records and what was inadvertently posted on the university’s website (see question 18). The information that was previously posted online appears to have been generated from a Facilities database. There are some minor discrepancies between that data and the data from the BART system. As part of the Board of Regents review, these databases will be reconciled and this FAQ will be updated with information about any additional flights as necessary.

Confidential donor, potential donor, and student information has been redacted from the King Air flight records pursuant to Chapter 22 of the Iowa Code. The only information that was redacted appears in black; no other redactions were made. In some instances, an employee name is redacted because the employee is also a university donor and was on the flight in the capacity of a donor. If any columns are blank, that information was not redacted; it was never entered into the system by ISU Flight Service.

14A . Were the aircraft ever used to fly the President and Mrs. Leath to Des Moines to catch commercial flights?

No. On Feb. 17, 2016, the King Air 350 was going to Elliott Aviation for maintenance. That same day, President and Mrs. Leath were booked on a one-way commercial flight out of Des Moines for a donor trip (they would be returning to a different location in Iowa). Since the King Air was already going to Des Moines for maintenance, President and Mrs. Leath rode along.

15. Where has the Cirrus plane flown since it was purchased and how are flights billed?

University Flight Service does not bill for use of the Cirrus aircraft in the same manner as the King Air, so the same type of records are not available. Use of the Cirrus is billed annually and divided among departments that use the plane. The university was able to obtain a log of the Cirrus flights from a third-party service. This log is attached. Additionally, the Cirrus maintenance log is attached. This information will be updated if more information becomes available. (Attached: Flight log | Supplemental log | Service log.)

There were four instances when President Leath piloted the university-owned Cirrus for business purposes where President Leath also extended his stay for personal reasons. According to university policy, employees are permitted to extend business trips for personal time. The university is already paying for the cost of travel to and from the location of the business trip, and the employee must pay for any additional costs incurred during personal time (e.g. hotel nights or meals). Although no reimbursement was required by university policy, President Leath reimbursed the university for the full cost of his transportation for these business trips. Those trips are as follows:

Trip March 25-29, 2015 $1,212.50 Invoice April 7, Leath paid April 8
Trip May 12-17, 2015 $1,162.50 Invoice Sept. 23, Leath paid Nov. 19
Trip July 3-14, 2015 $1,100.00 Invoice Nov. 18, Leath paid Nov. 19
Trip Aug. 26-30, 2016 $1,162.50 Invoice Sept. 2, Leath paid Sept. 9

(Attached: Documents reflecting these reimbursements.)

16. Why were university aircraft used to fly President Leath to North Carolina?

President Leath has traveled on the King Air in certain instances in which the plane has landed in North Carolina, and on some other trips that reporters have asked questions about. More information about the university business conducted on those trips is contained in the attached document. (Attached: King Air flight details.) Some of the flights in the attached document are not listed in the King Air flight records contained in question 14. That’s because those flights were on the old King Air 200 (specifically, the March 22, May 24 and May 27, 2013 flights; and the March 24, 27 and 29, 2014 flights). The flight records contained in question 14 are only for the King Air 350.

17. Was the King Air ever used to fly members of President Leath’s family, and if so, why?

Janet Leath plays an extremely important role for the university. While her position is unpaid, she has an appointment from the Board of Regents and works tirelessly to promote the university and its mission. In this role, Mrs. Leath has flown on university aircraft.

On one occasion, in March 2014, President Leath’s brother and his significant other rode on the university plane from Elmira, New York, enroute to the NCAA basketball tournament in New York City. During that trip, the pilot informed President Leath that he wanted to stop for fuel before entering New York City airspace. The pilot was concerned that the plane may be put in a holding pattern and he didn’t want to risk running low on fuel. The pilot made the independent decision to stop for fuel in Elmira, New York, which happened to be about thirty minutes from where President Leath’s brother lived at the time. President Leath decided that since the plane had to land there anyway, it would be appropriate to offer them a ride into New York City; there were empty seats on the plane and they were already planning to attend the Cyclones’ first round game.

As it turns out, the Cyclones lost in the first round and the President and Mrs. Leath were set to return to Ames the next day. President Leath’s brother had rented a car to drive home, but the pilot informed President Leath that he again wanted to fill up on fuel before making the trip back to Ames. It was much less expensive to fill up in Elmira than it was in New York City, so the decision was made to stop in Elmira for fuel, drop off the President’s brother and significant other, and continue on to Ames. This did not cost the university any extra money; therefore, no reimbursement was warranted.

17A: How do ISU pilots choose locations to refuel?

ISU pilots have discretion to stop for fuel where and when needed based on their professional judgment.

18. Why was information about the King Air flights removed from the university's website?

The site contained some confidential information not subject to disclosure pursuant to Chapter 22 of the Iowa Code. The information that was previously posted online appears to have been generated from a Facilities database. There appear to be some minor discrepancies between that data and the data that was pulled directly from the ISU Flight Service database (BART system) contained in question 14. As part of the Board of Regents review, these databases will be reconciled and this FAQ will be updated with information about any additional flights as necessary.

19. How was the plane damaged that President Leath was flying?

On July 14, 2015, while piloting the Cirrus SR22, President Leath encountered a microburst, a localized downdraft within a thunderstorm. As a result, he experienced a hard landing at the Bloomington, Illinois, airport. Following the landing, a wing flap of the Cirrus clipped a runway light.

20. Who did President Leath notify about this incident and when?

President Leath immediately contacted the control tower and ISU Flight Service and subsequently the FAA. Sometime after the incident, President Leath notified Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter (there are no documents related to this notification).

21. How much damage was caused to the plane?

The original estimate for the repairs was $12,591.70; the actual cost was slightly higher at $14,050.26. Attached is the estimate and invoice detailing the work that was done and the cost of that work. (Attached: Repair costs.)

22. How were the repairs paid for?

Pursuant to university policy, the university covered the costs associated with the hard landing, just like it would if an employee damaged a university car while on a business trip. However, the President and Mrs. Leath decided to make a donation to the ISU Foundation in an amount equal to the cost of the damage, storage of the plane, and the cost of having Flight Service send the King Air to pick President and Mrs. Leath up in Bloomington. The costs totaled $17,373.70. The Leaths original donation of $15,000 was based on an estimate of the repair. They have since donated an additional $2,500 to cover the remainder. As explained in question 16, the President also earlier reimbursed the university $1,100 to cover use of the Cirrus, which included fuel costs. (Attached: Invoice for storage | Invoice for return flight costs. Information about repair costs is contained in question 21.) ISU Flight Service created the invoice for return flight costs on Oct. 10, 2016, at the request of University Counsel Michael Norton to document the amount of the costs associated with the Bloomington flight.

23. Why wasn’t a claim made on the university’s insurance policy?

Because of the relatively minor cost of the repairs and the anticipated impact a claim would have on future university aviation insurance policy premiums, the university decided not to submit a claim for these damages. President Leath was not involved in this decision.

24. Has President Leath had any other aircraft incidents while piloting university planes or flying on university business?

No. President Leath has had no other incidents in any university plane or while flying on university business. On one other occasion, President Leath had a hard landing incident. This occurred while he was flying a privately owned plane on his own time. No injuries occurred and no action was taken against President Leath’s pilot’s license or FAA certifications. This incident was reported to university insurers prior to President Leath being approved as an authorized pilot for the university-owned Cirrus aircraft.

25. Why were the university aircraft removed from the flight tracking website, Flight Aware?

The university removed both aircraft as a result of potential issues related to security, competitiveness in recruiting coaches and faculty, and donor privacy.

26. What was the outcome of the Board of Regents' compliance review of the travel policies and equipment usage at state universities?

At the Oct. 20 Iowa Board of Regents meeting, chief audit executive Todd Stewart presented preliminary observations and recommendations regarding aircraft use, travel and off-campus use of university equipment. In his report to the board, Stewart noted:

  • President Steven Leath's travel did not conflict with any university policy.
  • The purchase of both ISU aircraft followed board policy; Board of Regents approval was not required for the acquisition of the Beechcraft King Air or the Cirrus SR22.

Following presentation of the report, the Board of Regents voted to continue with a more comprehensive review that includes an audit of each individual flight in ISU Flight Service since Leath joined Iowa State in 2012.

Observations and recommendations are included in the "Board of Regents Review of Travel Policies and the Use of State Equipment" report.

President Leath welcomes the full audit, will fully cooperate and is committed to adhering to university and board policies.