May 12, 2014
By Benét J. Wilson
Michigan could become the next state to provide liability protection for owners of private airfields after the state House of Representatives Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 5178 on May 8.
Authored by Rep. Peter Pettalia, the recreational-use bill was the result of work done by AOPA, the Recreational Aviation Foundation, and the Michigan Private Airstrip Owners Association. AOPA appeared before the House Judiciary Committee during several hearings and actively met with Pettalia and other committee members to explain the merits of House Bill 5178.
The current recreational-use statute provides liability protection for private landowners when an individual is using the land recreationally. However, since recreational aviation activity is not specifically mentioned in the existing statute, airfield owners are concerned that they may be held liable for aircraft accidents regardless of fault.
With this issue unresolved, many private airfield owners have drastically reduced aircraft operations or abandoned their airfield altogether, limiting the general aviation industry's growth in the state. By adding recreational aviation to the list of acceptable recreational activities denoted in the recreational-use statute, the Michigan legislature can provide the same level of liability protection afforded to skiers, ATV drivers, hikers, and others to the aviation industry while operating on privately owned land.
“The concept has been around for several years in Michigan but finding the appropriate legislative language and bill sponsor proved to be the most significant challenge,” said Bryan Budds, AOPA Great Lakes regional manager. “Thankfully, after being introduced to the issue, Representative Pettalia rolled up his sleeves and got to work for the aviation industry.”
With the bill now pending before the full state House of Representatives, AOPA members are being urged to contact their representatives to express their support for House Bill 5178. The bill will increase aviation activity at privately owned airstrips and grow the industry across the state. AOPA members can find contact information for their representatives online.
AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.
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