Note: Though Wycliffe Associates and Wycliffe Bible Translators have similar names and were one time related organizations, they are today separate organizations.
John Wycliffe, who famously translated the Bible into English, was one of the seminal figures of the Reformation. But he was more than a translator. He was an outspoken critic of clergy opulence. He wrote tracts condemning the luxurious lifestyles of many church leaders.
One wonders what Wycliffe would say about the private airplane owned by Wycliffe Associates, an airplane apparently used by WA’s President Bruce Smith and other Wycliffe Associates senior executives tocourt wealthy donors.
Wycliffe Associates’ plane is a high-performance turbo prop called a TBM 700….used models are typically $1- to $1.5-million. It’s successor, the TBM 900, sells new for about $4-million. The ministry keeps the plane at Orlando Executive Airport.
Bible translation organizations that operate in road-less parts of the world often use aircraft for basic transportation. Mission Aviation Fellowship, Samaritan’s Purse, and JAARS (formerly Jungle Aviation and Radio Service) have used airplanes for decades to move personnel and material to remote parts of the world.
However, an examination by Ministry Watch of flight records obtained from Flight Aware by the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation found that the Wycliffe Associates aircraft engaged in no such work. Flight records for the last six months found that the most distant airport the plane landed in was in Reno, Nevada.
However, the fixed costs of owning a TBM,according to a TBM owners group, are about $6,000 per month. The operating costs are about $2 per nautical mile. A September flight the Wycliffe Associates plane made to Atlanta and back to Orlando was about 1000 nautical miles, or about $2000 – not including the fixed costs. A round-trip ticket on a major airline ranged from just over $100 to about $300,depending on the time of day. The TBM 700 seats five people plus a pilot. So even if the Wycliffe Associates was full, it would still have been far cheaper to fly commercial.
Some executives who fly in corporate planes say the cost of ownership is more than made up in the time saved….[the] irony of using the time-savings argument for the Wycliffe Associates plane is this simple geographical fact: the offices of Wycliffe Associates are nearly adjacent to Orlando International Airport, the home of most of Orlando’s commercial flights.
Wycliffe Associates is not the only Christian ministry with its own aircraft. Creflo Dollar, Jesse Duplantis, Mac Hammond, Joyce Meyer, Trinity Broadcasting Network, Daystar, Perry Stone, and Kenneth Copeland all own aircraft. Using ministry resources for personal use is prohibited by IRS regulations, but the IRS almost never investigates tax-exempt organizations.
Most Christian ministries fill out a Form 990, which does require an organization to disclose ownership of aircraft, and if the aircraft is used personally. However, Wycliffe Associates classifies itself as a church and does not disclose this information to the public.
Wycliffe Associates recently resigned from its membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. The resignation came while it was under review for violation of the ECFA’s financial and ethical standards. The ownership of the plane did not play a factor in the review of Wycliffe Associates, according to ECFA President Emeritus Dan Busby.