Columbia, SC (WLTX) - An On Your Side investigation found state employees who take trips on state owned planes certify their trips are legitimate and for approved state business.
"These are tools for economic development," said Paul Werts, Executive Director of the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission. "The department of commerce uses these planes. These are the catalyst to bring in industry to the state of South Carolina."
TEAM COVERAGE: The Nerve.Org Report on State Plane Flights
Many lawmakers agree that the planes support economic development efforts.
When a state owned plane takes off though, there are no laws requiring the flight manifest have specifics about the trip.
"We're here to provide the service," said Werts. "We do not regulate or enforce their travel. We are required by law to provide the service and they're required to make a certification statement on the manifest."
A review by News19 and thenerve.org of hundreds of flight documents dating back to September 2011 shows almost 20% of the trips listed 'official business' or 'economic development' as a reason for taking off.
"Government, here again, is accountable for it's own actions within it's own organization but not the state aeronautics commission," said Werts.
Our investigation also found members of the legislature listing 'official business' as a reason for flying.
Flights from September 2011 though last month cost South Carolina taxpayers $216,000.
Clemson University used the plane most often during that time at a cost of more than $88,000 on 34 different trips.
Clemson listed 'official business' on a third of those flights.
When asked to clarify 'official business', a Clemson spokesperson said, "The university business trips were for athletic recruiting and operations business, alumni meetings, fund raising, and governmental affairs meetings."
"People can cherry pick what the description of a use would be. One's opinion of what official business is can be construed differently from another uh party," said Werts.
"At the present time, when an official flies a state plane, they have to file a report but there's no audit process," said John Crangle of Common Cause South Carolina. "So, it seems to me there should be a regular audit process so whenever a state plane is used, somebody is reviewing it to make sure the plane is used for an authorized purpose."
Crangle wants more specifics listed before a plane takes off and believes taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent.
"They need to have some very strict policies as to when the planes can be used and when they can't."