There have been recent discussions among local pilots regarding RMHPA’s purpose and the allocation of club resources and efforts to local free flight sites. RMHPA is an advocacy organization for the right to keep free flight truly free. RMHPA’s first priority is to enjoy flying on Colorado’s public lands and permitted private lands, without needless oversight and regulation, as possible. It is vital, in maintaining access to these sites, that we are aware of affected stakeholders and governmental issues that could affect access and that we proactively manage potential problems before sites are lost.
When issues arise that could compromise access, RMHPA’s first priority is to work with government entities and landowners to seek resolutions to maintain access, without adding restrictions or encumbrances to the use of the site. This can sometimes be as simple as educating the involved parties about our sports and making agreements to maintain trails or other activities of stewardship. In some instances, private land owners and government agencies have only permitted continued use of flying sites when RMHPA agrees to provide liability insurance for their properties.
While it is true that Colorado Statute provides liability limitations for private land owners, under 33-41-103, there are limitations to that protection and it also does not prevent injured parties from filing suit against the land owner. Tort claims filed can take years to resolve and even if baseless or related to activities covered in the recreational use statute, can cost land owners in legal representation to fight the claims filed. A great Colorado example is Nelson v. United States (10th Circuit Court of Appeals, 2016). To summarize, a mountain biker received an injury while mountain biking on a trail maintained by the USAF Academy, in 2008. In 2014, the petitioner was awarded damages and the United States government was deemed liable. It wasn’t until eight years later, in 2016, that the 10th Circuit reversed that earlier decision, in favor of the land owner. Even though the protections of the law prevailed, in this case, the legal defense costs in a similar case would be insurmountable for most private land owners.
One major limitation of the landowner liability limitation law, is that the use of the land must be without charge. In any instance where a private land owner or government agency is receiving payment for our use of their land, this liability limitation evaporates. This could arise in instances where competitions, events, fly ins, clinics, or training activities involve a space rental or special use permit from the land owner or government entity.
When insuring a private land owner or a local government entity is truly the only option to keep a flying site open, unfortunately, some restriction is required, by the insurer, to reduce liability. This is when RMHPA is required to file safety plans and place requirements on site users. No Officer of RMHPA wants to pay for insurance nor place any use restrictions on any flying site without first exhausting all other options and without the only alternative being the closure of the site.
Please also bear in mind that RMHPA has no authority over nor interest in regulating any use of public (BLM) or Forest Service land. RMHPA’s only interests are to those stakeholders, mostly comprised of local governments (cities, towns, and counties) and private landowners. If your flying is on public lands, you are only subject to the laws of the State and the Federal Government, as applicable. RMHPA will never attempt to take away any of those rights, and contrarily, we will advocate and fight to protect those rights, should they be restricted or infringed.
My mission, as your Vice President, is to give all pilots who use all RMHPA sites equal representation and to address the issues which matter most to you. My implementation of site representatives and liaisons is an outreach effort to ensure local pilots you fly with, faces you know, are representing your needs and protecting access to your site. Should you have any concerns, please reach out to them or directly to me.