Could be the jet's finally about to be sold. Maybe.
By KYLE HOPKINS
A Valdez businessman says he plans to buy the infamous state jet for $2.1 million, and hopes to close the deal as early as Wednesday.
A former Texan, Larry Reynolds described himself Friday as the owner of a sporting goods store and marine supply store in Valdez. He said that he made his money in sporting goods, boat sales and banking and is a real estate investor in Texas, Alaska and South Africa.
Reynolds said he plans to use the jet for business trips and to make the aircraft available for charter flights to help pay for it. He said he’s also an avid hunter:
“I’ll of course use it traveling in my big-game safaris overseas.”
Former Gov. Frank Murkowski bought the jet in 2005 over the objections of the Legislature and used it to fly around the state, sharing it with the Department of Public Safety.
Murkowski’s political opponents attacked the purchase as a symbol of stubbornness during his bid for re-election last year. He had said he would acquire the jet whether the Legislature agreed or not.
Gov. Sarah Palin defeated Murkowski in the Republican primary, vowing to get rid of the aircraft.
After trying to sell the more-than-20-year-old Westwind II on eBay, the state hired an aircraft broker — Turbo North Aviation — to find a buyer.
Turbo North owner Robert Heckmann warned Friday that the deal with Reynolds hadn’t closed yet, so it wasn’t a sure thing.
“We have a contract from Turbo North Aviation with Mr. Reynolds, but there’s been no hard money put up,” Heckmann said.
Reynolds said he hoped to close the deal this week, and said on Monday that it looked like a sure thing.
The state paid about $2.6 million for the jet — about half a million more than Reynolds would pay.
“For the age and model of the aircraft, this is the best price we think we can get,” said Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow. She said the state makes quarterly payments on the jet of about $62,500, with much of that money going toward interest.
Reynolds moved to Valdez about four years ago from Texas after spending summers in Alaska since 1988, he said.
Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, said he met the businessman a couple of years ago and the two recently attended a military appreciation dinner together. There, Reynolds mentioned he was interested in getting a jet, said Harris, who is speaker of the state House.
“I said, well, you know, the governor’s got a jet for sale. They’ve been trying to sell. Why don’t you look at that?” Harris recalled.
Reynolds said he did just that.