January 16, 2014
By Benét J. Wilson
A bill that would provide liability protection for private airfield owners when being used for noncommercial aviation is one step closer to becoming law after the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage Committee approved Senate Bill 321 by a vote of 10-4, Jan. 14. The Wisconsin Senate approved the measure Nov. 12.
The bill is being spearheaded by local pilot and airfield owner Don Kiel, with support from AOPA, the Recreational Aviation Foundation, and the Experimental Aircraft Association. The bill is expected to be voted on by the full assembly and signed by Gov. Scott Walker in the coming weeks.
The bill provides liability protection for private owners of aviation landing facilities. Privately owned recreational areas including campgrounds, bicycle courses, and others are afforded liability protections under Wisconsin law. But private airfields, which are utilized in the same recreational manner, may be held liable for a pilot’s negligent activity at the airfield. With this possibility present, many private airfield owners choose to limit aviation activity at their airfield.
“This legislation, following a national precedent of more than 20 other states enacting similar legislation, would expand general aviation’s reach across the state by making it possible for those airfield owners to increase private, noncommercial usage of their airfield without fear of being held liable for aviation incidents occurring on the airfield,” wrote Mark Kimberling, AOPA director of state government affairs. “With additional aviation activity occurring at private airfields, general aviation will continue to support both the citizens of the state and the continued growth of the $3.5 billion annual economic impact of general aviation in Wisconsin.”
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