Commercial Air Tours to End at Mt. Rushmore & Badlands
Continued Swarms of Overflights Deemed Incompatible with Park Values
Washington, DC —The skies will soon go quiet over two of South Dakota’s major national parks – Mount Rushmore and Badlands – under a new federal plan. The plan was adopted under a court order won by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and allied groups.
Under the proposed Air Tour Management Plans jointly announced this week by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Park Service (NPS), further commercial tourist overflights would cease as soon as environmental assessments are complete:
- At Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the draft plan would ban flights over the memorial or within a half-mile. Currently, there are two air tour operators who are authorized to conduct up to 5,608 commercial air tours annually but who have averaged 3,914 air tours per year over the period from 2017-2019; and
- At Badlands National Park, no air tours would be allowed above or within a half-mile mile of the park boundary. Currently, two air tour operators are authorized to conduct 4,117 commercial air tours annually but have averaged 1,425 air tours per year over the period from 2017 – 2019.
Today marks the beginning of a 30-day public comment period on the proposals.
“It has taken more than twenty years and no small amount of litigation to finally force the FAA and Park Service to implement the National Air Tour Management Act of 2000,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein who brought the lawsuit resulting in a Court of Appeal order that the two agencies adopt air tour management plans in 23 national parks. “Notably, these plans are the first being prepared with required environmental assessments that look at the impacts of hundreds of noisy overflights each year.”
The two agencies have already adopted air tour management plans for 13 other national parks during the past few months without conducting any environmental assessment or other compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). For many of those 13 parks, the two agencies simply took the actual number of air tours over the past three years and adopted that average as the plan. Another 5 parks have yet to begin their NEPA reviews.
Earlier this year, PEER and allied groups again sued the two federal agencies for its failure to conduct environmental assessments or otherwise comply with NEPA in grandfathering continued air tours over the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Point Reyes National Seashore, and two other San Francisco Bay Area park units.
“We are glad that these agencies are finally examining the impacts of overflights to protect park soundscapes and the visitor experience,” added Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the agencies this week also are using the NEPA process in proposing air tour management plans for Hawaiʻi Volcanoes and Haleakalā national parks for the first time. “National parks are now on the verge of reclaiming control over their skies.”