Being the new governor of the nation’s third-largest state already has a steep learning curve. But it got much sharper when, three days after he was sworn in, Gov. Ron DeSantis' plane had a critical mechanical issue and was forced to make an emergency landing in St. Petersburg while he was on his way to Fort Lauderdale.
New details about the emergency landing emerged Tuesday, when DeSantis recounted the harrowing event to reporters at a regular press conference in Tallahassee.
“We’re in the plane and we’re flying. I have my chief of staff, the attorney general, Helen (Aguirre Ferré) our communications (director), and the masks ... drop from the ceiling. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, it’s an old plane, maybe something just triggered, whatever,’” DeSantis said, chuckling. “I just look around like, ‘We’re not actually supposed to do this?’ And the pilots are telling me, ‘Put it on.’ So we’re all huffing into this thing.”
After the emergency landing, DeSantis and the rest of the passengers took another plane to Fort Lauderdale to still make their news conference that evening. But since then, DeSantis said he took the original plane to Sebring last week after a shooter killed five people there and DeSantis joined law enforcement in a press conference.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said “they’ve got it fixed,” DeSantis said, adding: “I have never had to do that before in all my years of flying in different aircraft whether it’s a civilian or military, so it’s a little bit of a strange deal ... (but) we’re back at it again.”
The governor had an announcement of his environmental budget scheduled in Naples for Tuesday afternoon, and they would be taking the formerly faulty plane to that event as well, he said.
The entire ordeal has been a consistent reminder of now-Sen. Rick Scott’s move to sell off the state’s airplane fleet when he took office as governor in 2010, instead insisting he would use his own private plane to travel the state. Years of controversy plagued the planes when officials used them for trips outside official business.
Scott is a millionaire who made his fortune as a chief executive of the Hospital Corporation of America.
But DeSantis, whose financial disclosure filed during the campaign lists his net worth at $310,971, does not have his own private plane and thus has been forced to get creative. Because the Florida Department of Law Enforcement provides his security detail, he’s been allowed to use a Beechcraft King Air (a small, twin-turbo prop plane) that the agency seized as part of a drug raid.
That leaves the rest of the Cabinet — Attorney General Ashley Moody, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis —to fend for themselves, because they are not granted the same protections from state police. Before Scott took office, Florida’s governor, lieutenant governor and Cabinet could all use three planes that made up the state fleet.
Fried, the only Democrat on the Cabinet, has said previously that “as statewide public servants in one of the largest states in the nation, an efficient method of air transportation is prudent to best serve our constituents." However, there hasn’t been any visible movement toward adding more planes, and Fried has been driving or flying commercial to her events throughout the state.