By Thomas B. Haines
With a new victory for backcountry pilots under their belts, two leaders from the Recreational Aviation Foundation joined AOPA President Craig Fuller at the association’s headquarters to talk strategy on more ways to protect remote airports.
The RAF’s AOPA visit on Feb. 11 occurred on the day that Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe signed a new recreational-use statute that denotes aviation among other approved recreational activities.
With the signing, Arkansas became the eighteenth state to sign a new recreational-use statute that specifically includes aviation as an approved activity on certain public and private lands. The statutes provide liability protection to land owners who open their property to the specified recreational activities as long as they don’t charge for access or cause a known hazard. While most states have a recreational-use statute, most don’t specify aviation as a use.
“We’ve gone about, with the help of the AOPA folks, amending those statutes and we’re now up to 18,” said RAF President John McKenna. Dave Myrick, the RAF liaison for Arkansas, and AOPA Regional Manager Yasmina Platt worked closely on the project to educate Arkansas officials about the importance of general aviation.
RAF Director Tim Clifford said getting states to recognize aviation as an approved use is mostly about education. The state agencies are used to dealing with horseback riding and all-terrain vehicles. “Once we explain that in aviation we have to be well trained, we have to be certified, we have medicals and those sorts of things you can just watch the comfort level rise up and then there’s more acceptance,” Clifford said. “There just hasn’t been a voice out there taking care of that.”
Encouraging public access to private lands is only one of the RAF’s missions. Others include assuring continued access to backcountry strips on public lands, preservation of remote airstrips, and reopening of closed airports. Arizona’s Tuweep Airport is one such closed strip that has become a cause for RAF. The state of Arizona closed the dirt strip, located on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, in 2005. Mark Spencer, the RAF state liaison in Arizona, got the foundation involved in a campaign to reopen the historic strip, said McKenna. One of the goals is to provide liability relief to the state, which the foundation is working on. While it’s too soon to declare victory at Tuweep, McKenna believes the strip can be reopened.
Recreational Aviation Foundation director Tim Clifford (left) and president John McKenna (right) talk airport preservation strategy with AOPA President Craig Fuller at the association’s headquarters on Feb. 11. The two came to share the news that Arkansas is the eighteenth state to recognize aviation as an approved recreational activity in the state.
Arkansas bill could unlock backcountry strips
Arkansas Rep. Joe Jett (D-Success), an AOPA member and pilot, and Sen. Robert Thompson (D-Paragould) sponsored the recently enacted bill that could open more than 210 private airfields to pilots in the state. Read more about the bill and what it means for pilots in the Natural State.