January 22, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
A bill to protect landowners from liability for noncommercial use of their private airstrips has passed the Wyoming House and moved on to the Senate.
House Bill 90 passed the House Jan. 21 on a 57-2 vote as Wyoming joined other states that have taken up recreational-use legislation during the 2013 lawmaking session.
AOPA is working with sponsors and supporters to pass the bill that could open access to many new airport destinations and create new flying opportunities for general aviation pilots.
“This bill would add aviation activities to the list of recreational land uses, making it more likely that private airfield owners would allow the aviation community access to their property,” said David Ulane, AOPA’s Northwest/Mountain regional manager. “Wider access would support outdoor recreation and stimulate economic activity at no cost to the state.”
As the bill makes its way through the legislative process, AOPA is working closely with its sponsors, Rep. Lloyd Larsen (R-District 54) and Sen. Michael Von Flatern (R-District 24), and Wyoming Pilots Association President Roger Williams to win passage.
Also pressing for passage was Bob Symons, a general aviation supporter whose family has fielded inquiries from pilots about an unimproved airstrip on family property.
House action swiftly followed the bill’s introduction Jan. 9 in the House Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee, said Ulane, who traveled to the Capitol in Cheyenne and testified before the committee in support of the bill on Jan. 17. More testimony in support came from private airfield owner Bob Symons, and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Ulane said.
In a phone interview, Symons told AOPA that his father, a retired fighter pilot, began flying a Cessna 120 from the small airstrip on family property after completing his military service. Now 88, Symons’ father enjoyed watching aircraft use the strip. But the family was also concerned about their legal exposure.
“If he could help some other people out, he felt good about that,” Symons said. But as a property owner, “you assume a lot of risk” making the airstrip available, he said.
The strip remains in essentially “a natural state,” which the owners explain to inquiring pilots who have seen that the landing strip is designated as an airport on charts and on Internet satellite images, he said.
“It’s not an ‘airport.’ It’s twenty feet wide, 1,900 feet long with a barbed wire fence at one end. We can’t help what Google Earth puts on there,” he said.
On final passage of House Bill 90, the airfield’s owners would be willing to discuss granting permission to use the strip to some of the local flight instructors and pilots, Symons said.
But Symons—who said he plans to return to the Capitol to testify before the Senate on House Bill 90—requests anyone hoping to use the strip will give his dad a call first.
“He likes getting a phone call so he can prepare himself to watch,” Symons said.
Members are urged to continue voicing support for House Bill 90, and to monitor AOPA’s online state advocacy information and the @AOPANorthwest Twitter feed for legislative news.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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