Airport and Pilot Liability for Nuisance

Airport and Pilot Liability for Nuisance

Howard Beckman
Attorney at Law

All rights to publication are reserved by the author. Republication of all or any portion of the text, other than "fair use," requires express permission from the author.

In preparation as of March 1, 2011

I. Introduction
II. State Laws
III. Airport Liability
IV. Pilot Liability
V. Literature
VI. Cases


Under the law, a nuisance occurs when a person's "peaceful enjoyment" of his property is unreasonably disturbed by activity on another property. Classically, a nuisance involves some type of physical invasion, such as odor, noise, vibration, water flow, etc., but this is not a necessary condition of nuisance.

Nuisances are generally classified as either abateable (temporary nuisance) or non-abateable (permanent nuisance), and as public or private, depending on how widespread the injury is. Each classification leads to different remedies; the typical remedies for nuisance are either a judicial order to correct or remove the offending condition (an injunction) or compensation ("damages").

In principle (and in practice), airport owners have primary liability for noise, fumes, and vibration from individual aircraft that take off and land at the airport. In addition, pilots or aircraft owners can be individually liable for these conditions. Some states limit the definition of airport-related nuisance that can be applied by courts, and some states prohibit courts from classifying an airport as a nuisance per se (something that is a nuisance at all times and under all circumstances).

The same set of facts that support a claim for nuisance against the governmental owner of an airport can also support a claim of unconstitutional taking of property (an action in inverse condemnation).

State Laws

[In preparation]

Airport Liability

[In preparation]

Pilot Liability

[In preparation]


"Airport Operations or Flight of Aircraft as Nuisance," 79 American Law Reports 3d 253.

"Airport as Nuisance," § 70, Aeronautics and Aerospace, 2A Corpus Juris Secundum.

Childs, Randolph W. "The Law of Nuisances Applied to Airports." 4 Air Law Review 132-___ (1933). [Historical value.]

"Duties and Liabilities Arising Generally from Operation of Aircraft," §§ 136-178, Aeronautics and Aerospace, 2A Corpus Juris Secundum.

Mason, Michael. "A Brief Survey of Airport Noise and the Law." 6 Lincoln Law Review 99-___ (June 1971).

"Nuisance Actions Against Municipal Airports -- Nestle v. City of Santa Monica." 48 Washington Law Review 904-921 (Aug. 1973).

"Nuisance as Entitling Owner or Occupant of Real Estate to Recover Damages for Personal Inconvenience, Discomfort, Annoyance, Anguish, or Sickness, Distinct from, or in Addition to, Damages for Depreciation in Value of Real Property or Its Use, 25 American Law Reports 5th 568

"Strict Liability, in Absence of Statute, for Injury or Damage Occurring on the Ground Caused by Ascent, Descent, or Flight of Aircraft," 73 American Law Reports 4th 416

Werlich, John M.; and Richard P. Krinsky. "The Aviation Noise Abatement Controversy: Magnificent Laws, Noisy Machines, and the Legal Liability Shuffle." 15 Loyola of L.A. Law Review 69-102 (1981).


Aviation Cadet Museum v. Hammer, Ark. Supreme Ct., 2008 — Owners of property near a private, public-access airport filed a claim against the airport as a nuisance. The trial court determined the airport was a nuisance and ordered that the airfield not be used for take off and landing. It said the injunction was to remain in effect until such time, if any, that the airport owners could demonstrate to the court that it could operate the airfield in a manner that would not constitute a nuisance, would not trespass on the plaintiffs' property, and would otherwise be operated in conformity with the law. The state supreme court upheld the decision.