Iowa State President Steven Leath damaged a plane owned by the school while flying in July 2015 from an 11-day trip to North Carolina for both personal and university business, an Iowa State spokesperson confirmed Saturday.
The school said Friday that Leath "encountered a microburst, a localized downdraft within a thunderstorm" while he was flying, and "as a result, he experienced a hard landing at the Bloomington, Illinois airport."
John McCarroll, executive director of University Relations, said Saturday that the trip from July 3 to 14, 2015, was to North Carolina and "involved donor contacts [and] some personal business."
Due to a tight travel schedule, Leath used the school's single-engine Cirrus SR22 to travel, McCarroll said.
Leath holds FAA pilot certification for single-engine aircraft, according to the school. Leath has flown the single-engine plane several times, including for both personal and university purposes.
The hard landing in Illinois, which was to refuel the plane, caused about $12,000 in damage, which was paid for by the university using discretionary funds — money earned through university investments, not state appropriations or tuition, McCarroll said.
McCarroll said the school decided it was "best" to just pay for the damage instead of filing an insurance claim.
Leath reimbursed the school $1,100 in November, 2015, for his trip that resulted in damage. He also reimbursed the school for three other trips, all to North Carolina, in 2015 and 2016. In all, the four trips resulted in Leath paying the school $4,637.50.
- March 25-29, 2015, trip: Leath reimbursed $1,212.50 (invoice sent April 7, Leath paid April 8.)
- May 12-17, 2015, trip: Leath reimbursed $1,162.50 (invoice sent Sept. 23, Leath paid Nov. 19.)
- July 3-14, 2015, trip: Leath reimbursed $1,100.00 (invoice sent Nov. 18, Leath paid Nov. 19.)
- Aug. 26-30, 2016, trip: Leath reimbursed $1,162.50 (invoice sent Sept. 2, Leath paid Sept. 9.)
Leath and his wife own property in Ashe County, North Carolina, and his family owns and manages a Christmas tree farm in the county. Prior to becoming president at Iowa State, Leath was vice president for research at the University of North Carolina.
"Keep in mind, none of the trips in question using the Cirrus SR22 were strictly for personal reasons; each of them had university business purposes," McCarroll said. "The president, however, felt that because some personal time was also involved, he should reimburse the university for the aircraft use."
Iowa State employs three trained pilots who fly two planes owned by the university, but Leath has flown himself for several trips. Along with the Cirrus SR22, Iowa State also owns a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air.
Leath said in a statement to the FAA that he "encountered an extremely strong gust that lifted me and I quickly added power but still dropped hard hitting the right wingtip" and his "left wing flap caught the top of a runway light," according to the Associated Press.
An airport inspection found "substantial damage to both wings," debris on the runway from the broken light and skid marks, according to the AP.
The trained university pilots were sent to pick up Leath and his wife, Janet, with the school's other airplane after the incident, McCarroll said.
The round-trips to pick up Leath and his wife cost more than $2,200 and was paid for by the "Greater University Fund," according to the AP.
The AP reported that the university vice president who oversaw the school's flight program, which would have been Warren Madden, who is now retired, said he was never told about the incident.
Madden told the AP that university policy would bar Leath from personal use of university planes. He also said due to insurance and liability issues, Leath would never fly alone. The AP reporter informed Madden that Leath had flown alone.
McCarroll said he could not answer legal questions about if the trip would have violated rules, but added, "President Leath believes he has acted appropriately."
Iowa State lists a policy online to provide clarification regarding personal use and misuse of university property:
State law, specifically Section 721.2 of the Iowa Code, prohibits any state employee from using, or permitting any other person to use, property owned by the state or any subdivision or agency of the state for any private purpose or for personal gain to the detriment of the state. Violation of this statute is a serious misdemeanor.
While the university said the microburst caused the hard landing, the AP quoted experts who said "the incident appears to be a case of an inexperienced pilot making an error."
McCarroll said Friday he would not comment further about the experts interviewed by the AP, but noted that Leath has been flying for 10 years.
An original release, sent out by the school Friday afternoon, also included a summary of Iowa State's ongoing relationship with the city of Ames and the Iowa State University Flight Service.
Iowa State said it was releasing the information because of comments Leath made at his annual address on Sept. 14 about improvements to the Ames Municipal Airport. Iowa State is planning to cover $250,000 of the $4.15 million project, which includes a new terminal and hangar.
The university also said several media inquiries and public records requests had been made. The AP published a story with more details Friday afternoon shortly after the release from Iowa State.
In addition to the release from Iowa State, Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said in a statement that he supports efforts by Iowa State to expand the airport.
"I fully support economic development efforts between our universities and their local communities," Rastetter said. "Partnerships such as the agreement between Iowa State University and the city of Ames on the continued development of the city’s airport are critical to help encourage growth."
Rastetter said he is aware of Leath flying the university-owned plane. Iowa State noted several times in its release that Board of Regents leadership was made aware of the effort to expand the Ames airport and the purchase of planes.
Iowa State also said Friday that the airplanes were not bought with taxpayer money. The Iowa State Foundation purchased a Beechcraft King Air and gifted it to the university. The Cirrus SR22, flown by Leath, was bought with unrestricted private funds managed by the ISU Foundation.