Rick Khalar is the chief pilot of the UT System’s Beechcraft King Air 350, a nine-passenger airplane with swiveling chairs, tinted windows and a toilet disguised as a seat.
“I have the best office in the world,” Khalar said. “I sit up there, and I see the world go by, and it’s all mine. I take pride in what I do, and I think I do it well.”
Khalar — who served in the U.S. Air Force flying B-52s for 30 years — has been the System’s chief pilot since December 2000. He said he misses the extreme nature of Air Force flights.
“We’re in the other extreme [at the System],” Khalar said. “We’re in the safe world, doing things extremely carefully.”
Khalar said his first time on an airplane was in the eighth grade.
“They had this little air show,” Khalar said. “One guy was selling rides in a Cessna 172 for a penny a pound, and my buddy Dave and I got on a scale. I paid a $1.60 for my flight, and he paid a $1.30, and we took off with the pilot. We had a great time.”
According to Randy Wallace, System associate vice chancellor, controller and chief budget officer, the System plane cannot be used for personal excursions.
“Any of our administrators can actually reserve the plane, realizing that they could be bumped off by the chancellor or our executive officers,” Wallace said. “UT-Austin athletics makes up a fairly substantial amount of our business, but it’s primarily used for System administration.”
Amy Mitchell, administrative associate in the System controller office, is responsible for scheduling flights and coordinating payments and maintenance. Mitchell said it costs approximately $1,000 to operate the plane for an hour, in addition to fuel and maintenance charges. According to Wallace, flight costs are built into the System’s budget.
“The plane is funded centrally,” Wallace said. “[The System] budgets for the plane, so we pay the cost. … When people want to utilize our plane that are not in the core administration, then we charge them the fair going rate.”
Mitchell said plane usage varies depending on the time of year, but most flights take place in Texas.
“Sometimes there’s less usage during the summer, of course because the institutions are on a summer schedule,” Mitchell said.
Photo by Amy Zhang / Daily Texan Staff
The plane usage is closely monitored by the state and the UT System Board of Regents’ rules and regulations. Mitchell said Khalar is allowed to fly a maximum of six consecutive flights per week. Because the rules also stipulate two pilots must be present for each flight, peripheral pilots are hired at a daily rate to accompany Khalar on flights.
The plane is located at the Texas Department of Transportation’s hangar at Austin–Bergstrom International Airport. According to Nancy Sutherland, Travel Program director, TxDOT employees handle all maintenance for the plane. Sutherland said, when the System’s plane is in use, state planes are available for the System’s use.
Khalar said his long tenure at the System has turned his passengers into family.
“I’ve actually seen weather coming towards an airport, and I’ve called the travellers and said, ‘You guys need to come back because we need to leave right away,’” Khalar said. “Our relationship is so great here that I don’t get questions. It’s like, ‘We’re on the way,’ and here they come.”