Wisconsin protects private airfields

Legislation awaits governor’s signature

February 20, 2014

Wisconsin lawmakers have joined a growing movement to protect private airfield owners from liability, with Feb. 18 vote by the Wisconsin Assembly in favor of Senate Bill 321.

The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Scott Walker, and will support the noncommercial use of private airfields. More than 20 states have now enacted similar legislation, thanks to grassroots support backed up by national associations. In Wisconsin, pilot and airfield owner Don Kiel was the chief advocate of the legislation, backed up by AOPA, the Recreational Aviation Foundation, and the Experimental Aircraft Association. AOPA supported Kiel’s effort in meetings with lawmakers, as well as letters of support sent to key legislative leaders that highlighted aviation’s $3.5 billion contribution to the state economy.

The national effort to protect private landowners from liability related to aircraft use is driven by the need to keep as many backcountry strips and private fields available as possible. While campgrounds, parks, and similar recreation facilities have long enjoyed such protection, the extension of liability protection to property owners who welcome airplanes is a more recent phenomenon. The successes to date were noted by General Aviation Manufacturers Association CEO Pete Bunce in a Feb. 18 press conference reporting some industry progress on revenue and aircraft shipments, with the promise of more progress to come fueled in part by the “grassroots” movement to secure aviation access to private land.