Court Orders Limits on National Park Air Tours

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For Immediate Release
Friday, May 1, 2020
Paula Dinerstein (301) 580-4020

Court Orders Limits on National Park Air Tours

Within Two Years 23 National Parks Must Adopt Overflight Management Plans


Washington, DC — Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Park Service to adopt limits on noisy air tours in twenty-three National Parks within the next two years, following a lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The case involved the long-standing failure of the agencies to produce an Air Tour Management Plan as required by the National Park Air Tour Management Act (NPTMA) of 2000 in a single park.

PEER and Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono (HICoP) petitioned the court for a writ of mandamus to compel the agencies to implement the NPTMA, which requires the FAA in consultation with the NPS to “establish an air tour management plan for any national park or tribal land whenever a person applies for authority to conduct a commercial air tour.”

In siding with the petitioners, the court noted that “For nineteen years, the agencies have failed to comply with their statutory mandate despite Congress’s command to ‘make every effort’ to do so within two years of an application.” Noting the agencies’ past failures to develop a plan, the court said, “promises are not enough; judicial intervention is needed.”

“For almost 20 years, the FAA and the NPS have allowed an airborne reign of terror to go unmitigated over park skies,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who argued the case before the court. “PEER will work with affected communities and parks to, at long last, develop responsible air tour management plans.”

Air tours offer visitors panoramic views of some of our most iconic national parks. Last year saw more than 47,000 park overflights mostly concentrated over a dozen parks. Some parks are particularly hard-hit by constant aircraft noise. Hawaii Volcanoes, for examples, sees as many as 80 flights a day.

For years, parks have sought to limit overflights but could not proceed without action from the FAA, which was never forthcoming. The PEER suit ends this bureaucratic stalemate and directs the adoption of management plans for the 23 parks with the highest overflight traffic within two years. As the court noted “Mandamus relief can’t make money grow on trees, but it can end an interagency turf war…the agencies’ failure to regulate air tours harms visitor welfare to some extent by exposing visitors to unmitigated noise pollution…”

“It is very rare for a court to grant a petition for writ of mandamus,” added Dinerstein, “Judicial intervention was needed to end this impasse and continued court supervision, as the court ordered, will be needed to ensure that the agencies finally implement the law.”


Read the court’s decision
See the court order
Examine the PEER briefing and suit

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