Athletics snags a new ride

USF Athletics has added a number of new things this year. It now offers personal MacBooks to student athletes, and it’s undergoing multi-million dollar renovations.

Now, thanks to a donation last week from long-time benefactors to the University, the department has access to its own private jet.

Frank and Carol Morsani donated a 1979 Cessna Citation 1/SP to USF Athletics, the University announced last week, and it will be used primarily for recruiting and as an alternative to commercial flights, said University spokesman Michael Hoad.

“It will be used when it is more cost or time effective than commercial transportation,” he said.

Sun Dome Inc., an independently-run service organization, will own and operate the aircraft, and those who wish to use it will have to pay the operating expenses, Hoad said.

“They will own the title primarily to create a separation from state funding,” he said. “No public funds will go toward the plane.”

Dave Champley, manager of sales engineering at Cessna Aircraft, said the original retail cost of a 1979 Cessna Citation was $1.3 million. With inflation, the estimated value is $3.84 million.

“It costs roughly $1,600 per flight hour to fuel and maintain the aircraft,” Champley said.

Champley said estimating the annual operating cost of the plane would be difficult.

“It’s a big variable,” he said. “Keeping two pilots on payroll could cost anywhere between $100,000 to $150,000.”

The aircraft is just another in a long line of donations from the Morsanis, said Jae Wilson, director of USF Foundation Communications, in an e-mail. In 2006, the Morsanis gave $10 million, $7 million which helped to create the Carol and Frank Morsani Center for Advanced Health Care, located on the corner of Magnolia and Holly Drives, and $3 million which went to creating a new football practice complex and a stadium for the women’s softball team.

Carol Morsani is involved with the USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy organization.

“In total, the Morsanis have made gifts to the University of just over $23 million,” Wilson said.

Frank Morsani ran a series of successful Toyota dealerships, though he started as an auto mechanic.

“Frank Morsani believes that major institutions in Tampa help make it a better city,” Hoad said. “He is also a big supporter of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center … The Morsanis very much believe in giving back to the community what they’ve made. They are classic corporate citizens.”