Report: TVA helicopter use broke rules

@ # State

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The Tennessee Valley Authority's inspector general released an audit on the organization's misuse of an executive helicopter, calling it not always cost effective.

An internal audit of the TVA helicopter use was released earlier this week. It says many trips executives made on the helicopter were too short for such use, like traveling between Knoxville and Chattanooga. The report determined that it cost around $1,100 to make trips between the cities separated by roughly 100 miles and saved 15 to 24 minutes compared to driving.

Violations included flying without proper documentation and justification.

Assistant Inspector General David Wheeler said in the audit that the failures prevent TVA from ensuring travel costs are managed effectively and may cause reputational risks.

TVA purchased a $6.95 million executive helicopter in 2016 equipped by Mercedes Benz to replace an aging aircraft. TVA President Bill Johnson said the new helicopter, previously used by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, is safer and helps executives be more efficient with their time.

According to the audit, TVA used between seven and nine helicopters to make roughly 2,100 flights from October 2014 to the end of last year.

A TVA spokesperson said that the organization is working to improve its procedures; however, some officials disagree with the audit's conclusions about federal travel rules as there is no indication they apply to using aircraft for operational purposes. The spokesperson said that 90 percent or more of TVA's helicopter flights are for operational purposes.

Stephen Smith, the executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said in a statement that he understands TVA's need for helicopters, but characterizes the audit's findings as proof of luxury aircraft misuse and abuse of rate payer dollars.