National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000 at Crossroads

Last Updated: July 17, 2012

FAA Reauthorization Bill provision clarifies agency roles to break 10 year deadlock

Imagine hiking with your family on a trail on an once-in-a-lifetime trip to a national park only to hear the sound of propeller blades overhead rather than hearing flowing water, birds chirping, and leaves rustling in the wind. That is what many visitors encounter at dozens of national parks due to a lack of forethought and planning when it comes to the management of air tours.

The National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000 was passed to preserve and provide this special opportunity to hear natural sounds in our national parks.

A Decade Without Progress

But despite 10 years of effort and money spent by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Park Service (NPS) to draft air tour management plans for parks where low-flying, sightseeing air tours take place, no such plans have been completed.

This bureaucratic stalemate has been attributed to a lack of clarity in the existing law regarding each agency’s role in implementing the National Parks Air Tour Management Act. Consequently, neither the safety of air tour operations, nor the opportunity for park visitors to experience the inspiring sounds of nature, has improved.

An Opportunity for Change

The current reauthorization of the FAA provides an important opportunity to amend the National Parks Air Tour Management Act. The “Process and Approval” provision in Section 709 of the Senate version of the FAA reauthorization bill would provide the FAA and the NPS with the clarity needed to complete the planning process.

The provision, which is sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and supported by a bi-partisan group of Senators, as well as Representatives Grijalva (D-AZ), Hirono (D-HI), Dicks (D-WA), Moran (D-VA), Duncan (R-TN), DeFazio (D-OR), Filner (D-CA), Nadler (D-NY), Sires (D-NJ), Sablan (D-MP), and Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), is consistent with the Act’s report language, as well as each agency’s mission and expertise. (Read more)

It simply states:

The Federal Aviation Administration has sole authority to control airspace over the United States. The National Park Service has the sole responsibility for conserving the scenery and natural resources in National Parks and providing for the enjoyment of the National Parks unimpaired for future generations.

National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000

This law requires the FAA and NPS to develop air tour management plans for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Glacier National Park, the Statue of Liberty National Monument, Mount Rushmore National Monument, and other parks where air tour operations take place. The law does not apply to Grand Canyon National Park, national parks in Alaska, general aviation, or commercial airline vessels.

Until air tour management plans are completed, park air tours are managed under “interim operating authority,” which sets flight limits for each park based on unverified flight information the FAA received after the law was enacted.

Since no air tour plans are in place, aircraft do not follow specific flight patterns that the FAA has determined to be safe and that NPS has determined to be appropriate.
The FAA and NPS have been preparing air tour management plans at approximately 10 national park units since 2002, but have been unable to progress beyond soliciting initial public scoping comments.

Despite the completion of two reports by the Government Accountability Office, more than 15 National Parks Air Tour Advisory Group meetings, the publication of a joint “Implementation Plan” by the FAA and NPS in 2005, and a series of high-level meetings between agency leaders, little to no progress has been made.

NPCA’s Involvement

Through NPCA’s participation in the National Parks Air Tour Advisory Group, which was established under the Act, it has become apparent to many involved that no air tour management plan will be completed unless Congress amends the current law to clarify the duties and jurisdictions of the two agencies.

If appropriately managed, air tours provide a unique way for visitors to view some of America’s most spectacular parks. However, air tours should not detract from the experience of other visitors on the ground.

The opportunity to listen to unobstructed natural sounds is an increasingly rare experience in America. We must ensure our national parks provide the special experience they were intended to provide, which is why the implementation of the National Parks Air Tour Management Act is so important.

Please support the “Process and Approval” provision within the Senate FAA reauthorization bill so that the FAA and NPS can finally move forward with implementing this important law. Your efforts can help ensure future generations of park visitors have the opportunity to experience the inspiring sounds of nature.

For More Information

Contact Kristen Brengel, Director of Legislative and Government Affairs at kbrengel@npca.org.

Read the Article in National Parks Magazine: "The Listener's Yosemite"

 

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