TVA’s Office of Inspector General Report Confirms Costly Misuse of Luxury Helicopters by Utility

October 31, 2018

Knoxville, Tenn. – Published October 30, a new audit from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Office of the Inspector General provides additional information surrounding the concerns raised by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in early 2018 over TVA’s misuse of luxury aircraft. As outlined here, the report states that TVA failed to follow the required policies and procedures in their use of TVA aircraft.

While this report focused specifically on TVA’s helicopter use, questions still remain over millions of dollars worth of luxury jets and a specialized Mercedes Benz helicopter, formerly used by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) registry, executives at TVA authorized the purchase of these jets and helicopter in the last three years using ratepayer money to finance these purchases. This most recent audit proves that these ratepayer dollars were not well spent. Here is a quote from the audit’s Executive Summary:

What the OIG Found: We found TVA did not comply with the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) and TVA policies and procedures regarding use of TVA helicopters for passenger transportation flights.


Cost comparison analyses prior to use of the helicopters were not documented.

Business justifications prior to use of the helicopters were not documented.

Authorizations prior to use of the helicopters were not documented.

While SACE understands the need for TVA to use helicopters, our concerns remain focussed on the misuse of ratepayer dollars on luxury aircraft such as the $7 million Mercedes Benz Helicopter, with special features such as hardwood floors, included in this audit (tail number N482AE). The audit confirms that this expensive helicopter was not used for transmission work, but instead for what TVA is calling “economic development” trips and personal transportation or “passenger transportation” for executives, many of which are unnamed.

Further, the audit clearly shows that helicopters were used in an inefficient manner, spending thousands of dollars on short flights (for instance between Knoxville-Chattanooga) in order to save 15 minutes of travel time. In the analysis, at least 19 flights were found to have zero cost benefit because of the short distance traveled (see page 6 of the audit).

SACE strongly believes the OIG needs to make public their investigation of TVA’s CEO Bill Johnson’s use of the jets for personal travel.

“This audit confirms our concerns about TVA’s abuse of ratepayer dollars giving luxury perks for executives while increasing customers bills in the TVA region,’ said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.”TVA bills are some of the highest in the country while top TVA executives are flying around in luxury aircraft on the customer’s dime. This is the same mindset that lowers energy rates for large industrial customers (perhaps also passengers on the helicopter, we don’t know because TVA did not keep the required records) while increasing bills for less affluent customers. These actions confirm how out of touch TVA’s top leadership is with the people they should be accountable to serve.”