LANGSTON — A year after a 1960s-era, single-engine airplane crashed, killing four including its 82-year-old pilot, Oklahoma State University will require all private planes and their pilots to undergo a review before being used for university-related travel.
The Board of Regents for Oklahoma State University and the A&M Colleges approved the university's revamped travel policy at a meeting Friday at Langston University.
The new policy tightens restrictions for all university faculty and staff, including student employees, who travel on university business. Among other changes, the new policy requires that a university aviation consultant approve all private aircraft that would be used for university business, as well as the pilots who would fly them.
It isn't clear what difference the new policy would have made had it been in force before the crash. However, the Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee aircraft, manufactured in 1964, and pilot Olin Branstetter would have had to receive approval from an aviation consultant before flying.
The new policy also extends those restrictions to coaches. Under the previous policy, coaches were allowed to use their own discretion in making travel arrangements, provided student athletes weren't traveling with them. Under the new policy, coaches will no longer have that leeway.
The policy addresses employees driving on university business. Under the new policy, no single employee may drive more than eight hours within a 24-hour period, and two drivers are required for any trip more than 350 miles away or any drive that extends past 2 a.m.
The policy is the result of a yearlong review by a task force assembled after the Nov. 17, 2011, plane crash that killed OSU head women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna, pilot Branstetter and his wife, Paula. The plane crashed into the mountains of central Arkansas as the two coaches were headed to Little Rock for a recruiting trip.
Gary Clark, OSU's vice president and legal counsel, headed up the committee that reviewed the policy. Although the policy review came about as a result of the crash, Clark said the changes weren't intended to address the specific facts of that crash. The National Transportation Safety Board hasn't yet released a detailed report outlining the cause of the crash.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, questions arose about how the university's travel policy applied to coaches. OSU officials said the university's team travel policy didn't apply to coaches. But a section of the previous policy that appeared to deal specifically with coaches and athletic department staff traveling without students listed a requirement that aircraft be “powered by two or more turbine engines” — a requirement Branstetter's single-engine plane didn't meet.
Clark said a 2004 amendment to the team travel policy made it clear that policy didn't apply to coaches traveling without students. But a contradictory provision was left in the policy, he said. So although the language in the policy was ambiguous, university officials enforced it in the way they'd intended, including before last year's fatal flight.
“That particular flight was not in violation of the policy as it existed at the time,” he said. “Coaches' travel was to be done at the coaches' discretion.”
During the review process, members of the committee looked at other travel policies at peer universities. Officials drew a great deal on policies from the University of Arkansas. But otherwise, other universities' policies didn't offer much guidance, said Regent Doug Burns, a member of the committee. OSU's new policy is far more comprehensive than the ones in place elsewhere, he said.
“Most of them really don't have much of one,” he said. “Ours does not go overboard, but it certainly addresses lots of things.”
The school also revised its travel policy after the Jan. 27, 2001, plane crash that killed two basketball players and eight others associated with the university.