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Liability of Airport Owners and Operators

Transportation Law: Air Transportation: Airports & Airways

Most airports are owned by state governmental units or state political subdivisions, such as cities, counties, or airport districts. Governmental units or political subdivisions are generally not liable for torts that result from the performance of a governmental function. Governmental units or political subdivisions are only liable for torts that result from the performance of a proprietary function.

The maintenance and operation of an airport by a city, county, or other public agency is considered in most states to be a governmental function. Therefore, when an airport is owned by a governmental unit, the airport is generally immune from liability in tort or negligence actions that may be brought by passengers, by visitors, or by persons on the ground.

If an airport is owned by a governmental unit and is not immune from liability for a tort or a negligence action that may be brought by passengers or by persons on the ground, the passengers or the persons on the ground may be limited as to the amount they can recover from the airport under state tort claims acts. Most state tort claims acts limit liability for personal injuries or for property damage to a specific dollar amount. Most state tort claims acts do not allow punitive damages. Plaintiffs seeking damages under state tort claims acts are required to present written notice of their claims against the governmental units within a certain number of days after their claims arise.

If an airport is owned by a private person or a private entity, the airport is not immune from liability for personal injury or property damage that occurs as a result of the operations of the airport. Owners and operators of airports owe a duty of ordinary care in the operation and maintenance of the premises of the airports. When the owners or operators park or store airplanes, the owners or the operators have a duty to use ordinary care in preventing damage to the airplanes.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for certifying airports that serve airplanes that have a seating capacity of more than 30 passengers. The FAA requires airport owners and operators to prepare airport operations manuals. Such manuals usually contain standards of conduct, which standards govern the operation of the airport and set forth the procedures that are to be followed in the event of personal injury or property damage on an airport’s premises.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.