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Hawaii decriminalizes airport violationsHawaii decriminalizes airport violations

AOPA achieved its top legislative priority in Hawaii on July 5 with the governor’s signature of a bill that decriminalizes minor airport violations that previously put the certificates and livelihoods of aircraft owners in peril.

The signature of Gov. David Ige on Senate Bill 2619 turned a potential criminal conviction for parking in the wrong place, or storing non-aeronautical items (such as golf clubs) in airport hangars into a civil infraction. There’s a world of difference between the two, as AOPA Western Pacific Regional Manager Melissa McCaffrey noted in a March letter to the chairman of the state’s House Committee on Judiciary.

“A criminal record has ramifications that can destroy careers,” McCaffrey wrote. “If a professional pilot has been convicted of a misdemeanor, he must declare so on his aviation medical forms (specifically section 18W), job applications and is banned from flying into several countries. Individuals who have chosen to serve our country and hold government security clearances (military, reserve, or DoD) are also put in jeopardy by this statute. Criminal charges can and do result in the loss of clearances effectively costing them their jobs.”

That letter was part of a broad-based, years-long effort to secure relief from a practice that took many aircraft owners by surprise when the state first began charging hangar tenants with a crime for storing a golf cart or pitching wedge inside the T-hangars at Honolulu International Airport. AOPA joined local pilots in protesting the state’s aggressive and disproportionate enforcement, and supported legislation in 2014 to decriminalize such violations.

Frustration followed, and AOPA renewed the push in 2017, starting with the formation of an aviation caucus in the state legislature. That group met for the first time in February 2017, and as lawmakers learned about this and other aviation-related issues from experts, a new bill got a more favorable reception, though still it did not pass.

In 2018, AOPA kept the pressure up, and worked with lawmakers to introduce a new bill, which became Senate Bill 2619.

Hearings were held, and AOPA joined local pilots, business owners, and aviation groups testifying in support of passage. In February, McCaffrey offered suggestions to improve the bill under consideration, most of which were adopted, though lawmakers ultimately decided to allow for a $500 maximum civil penalty sought by the state Department of Transportation, rather than the $200 maximum fine that McCaffrey had suggested was appropriate.

Michael Bailey, submitting written testimony as an individual, urged lawmakers: “Please pay close attention to any testimony submitted by Melissa [McCaffrey] ... Her input will give us our best opportunity to bring Hawaii statutes into line with the rest of the nation. She has data and experience at a national level that we lack locally. We need to stop [jeopardizing] pilot careers over this relatively trivial [issue] at our state airports. No other state does this to their pilots.”

The Experimental Aircraft Association, National Business Aviation Association, local aviation businesses, and many other pilots and aircraft owners joined the chorus calling for decriminalization, and the bill passed through a series of votes in April and May without opposition.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, GA Caucuses

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