West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Feb. 18 signed into law a bill that will add liability protection for land owners who allow aircraft operations at their privately owned airstrips and farms.
When the protection goes into effect May 12, West Virginia will be the twenty-fifth state to take this step to encourage landowners to open their private airstrips for public use. AOPA supported the legislation, which was introduced by state Delegate Mike Folk, an AOPA member and pilot, and submitted testimony in January for a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
House Bill 2138 adds noncommercial aviation to the activities protected under West Virginia’s recreational-use statute. The bill passed the state House on Jan. 29 and Senate on Feb. 11.
General aviation has strong support from West Virginia at the local, state, and federal level, including U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, co-chair of the Senate GA Caucus, and Shelley Moore Capito, who was a member of the House GA Caucus before being elected to the Senate in 2014.
With liability concerns eased, more land owners may choose to make their private strips available to pilots.
"West Virginia's got a lot to offer as far as recreation," said Folk, adding that beyond aviation activities, recreational airstrips can give pilots access to areas where they can fish, hunt, or camp. "Some people would say it's part legal reform, part tourism," he said.
According to the Recreational Aviation Foundation, member Jim Newton got involved in promoting the bill in West Virginia and could attest to the difficulty of getting permission to fly to private airstrips in the state.
“West Virginia has wonderful scenery and many private airstrips, some noted on the aeronautical charts and many that are not,” he told pilots, in a news release from the group. Landowners would say things like, “I'm not giving you permission to land here, but I won't kick you out if you do,” the Recreational Aviation Foundation added.
AOPA has coordinated with lawmakers and the Recreational Aviation Foundation to include aviation in recreational-use statutes throughout the country. AOPA Eastern Regional Manager Sean Collins said the law “is a positive step for the continued development of GA in West Virginia because it will support an increase in economic activity and promote recreational aviation as pilots look to take advantage of the natural resource that is West Virginia’s wilderness.”