Private landowners in Maine who don’t charge pilots who use their airstrips for recreational purposes would be protected under legislation signed by Gov. John E. Baldacci.
The bill (L.D.889) amends the state’s landowner recreational liability law to include noncommercial aviation activities in the definition of “recreational” activities, meaning that any private airport owner who allows recreational activities on his property would not be liable for injuries or property damage to members of the public participating in that activity.
In practical terms, the bill will give Maine’s private airport owners the latitude to open up their airports for increased public use. For AOPA member John Nadeau, it is an opportunity to continue to share aviation with everyone&mdashsomething he has done since he purchased Old Acton Airfield in 1997.
Nadeau, who lives in North Chelmsford, Mass., hadn’t known about the airport, even though it was less than a mile from his vacation home in Acton. A resident who knew that Nadeau was a pilot told him that it would be auctioned, and suggested that he bid on it. To Nadeau’s surprise, he won the property, which includes a 2,400-foot turf runway.
Nadeau opened the airport to the community of 2,000 residents in 1998 by hosting a field day, providing free airplane rides, hamburgers, and hot dogs. The annual event became so popular that eventually it drew nearly half the townspeople out to Old Acton Airfield, and more than 100 airplane rides were given. Nadeau said he hosted the field days “to let everyone experience the fun of aviation.” He also allowed local pilots to use the airfield and purchased a private insurance policy to protect himself against civil liability exposure. The premiums became so expensive that Nadeau discontinued the policy, but allowed pilots to keep using the airfield. “Aviation is a lot more fun in a group,” he explained.
In 2007, Nadeau read a news story in “AOPA ePilot” about a new Montana liability law for privately owned airports, so he asked State Sen. Richard Nass to support similar legislation in Maine. Nass and his wife, State Rep. Joan Nass, were among the hundreds of people who came to Old Acton Airfield to enjoy the field day. Now, after a lot of dedication and hard work, Nadeau’s idea to help Maine’s private airports has become law.
Passage of the liability legislation means that Maine’s private airport owners probably will be more willing to open their airstrips to pilots and aircraft owners, Nadeau said, adding, “It is my hope that this story will inspire some other pilots to make a difference in their states.”