Hollister Considers Airport User Insurance

To prevent potential lawsuits against the city, officials plan to require users of the Hollister Municipal Airport to carry insurance. Two different types of insurance requirements are under consideration, and senior officials are still working out specifics of the plan. But they say the notion of mandating liability insurance at the airport – pending City Council approval – is all but assured.

The idea should come before the Airport Advisory Commission within the next month and the Council within the next two months, officials said.

?Anything that occurs, any injury or damage that occurs on city property subjects the city to getting sued,? City Manager Dale Shaddox said.

The city already requires residents who lease space among the airport?s 87 hangars, or landing zones, to carry liability insurance. But many lessees are out of compliance and without insurance, according to officials.

Shaddox said the city is currently reviewing lease agreements to determine who is not complying. In particular, most lessees of 23 spaces known as the Keenen hangars along San Felipe Road are not insured. The city obtained those properties within the past year and now owns all of the airport?s hangars.

The second part of the consideration is to require ?airport operations? insurance, which includes coverage for pilots based in Hollister and possibly anyone flying in and out, Shaddox said. The city currently does not require airport operations insurance, but Shaddox said it probably should.

Shaddox assigned Councilman Tony Bruscia, a full-time insurance broker, to research the potential costs for affected residents; Hollister taxpayers will not be responsible for any of the tab. For someone to carry both types of coverage – for leasing and airport operations – it would cost about $400 to $500 a year, Bruscia said.

Such insurance is relatively inexpensive, he said, because air-related accidents rarely occur.

?Pilots who are uninsured, that?s incredibly irresponsible,? Bruscia said. ?If something happens, and they crash into a house and kill people or injure them, who?s going to pay for that??

He added: ?If it?s a big deal, then give up the plane because it?s a privilege – it?s not a right.?

Still, some long-time lessees and users of the airport are incensed about the likely policy change. Councilman Robert Scattini, who served on the Airport Advisory Commission for 19 years, said most avid airport users would be upset if the city institutes the requirements.

Scattini, however, who owns an airplane stationed at the airport, maintained somewhat of a neutral stance. Though he did say there has never been a major incident at the airport and the city conducts inspections every year.

?If that?s what the city manager wants, and the city needs to be protected, then I guess I have to go along with it,? Scattini said.

Hollister resident and airport commissioner Gerry Gabe objects to the requirement. He said he suggested to Shaddox the city offer an alternative to the insurance mandate, such as an option to post a bond.

?He flatly wouldn?t even think about it,? Gabe said.

Shaddox and other officials have emphasized that most airports throughout the country already require insurance coverage.

?I?ve heard the assertion that nothing has really happened,? Shaddox said. ?It only takes one occurrence for there to be a lot of money awarded and the city cannot have that kind of liability exposure out there.?

By Kollin Kosmicki/Staff Writer (kkosmicki@freelancenews.com)