FAA Blows Court Deadlines for Park Air Tour Limits

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Thursday, March 10, 2022
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7038

FAA Blows Court Deadlines for Park Air Tour Limits

Overflight Plans for 8 Major National Parks Due This August Not Close

Washington, DC — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Park Service (NPS) now admit in court filings that they will not meet an August 2022 deadline for finalizing long overdue air tour management plans covering two dozen national parks. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has filed an enforcement motion seeking to suspend all overflights across national parks without finished air tour management plans by the deadline.

The National Park Air Tour Management Act of 2000 requires the FAA, in consultation with NPS, to develop plans to limit noise and disruption in any park with more than 50 overflights a year. Yet, in the more than two decades since, the agencies have not developed a single air tour management plan. In May 2020, PEER won a judgment against the two agencies before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on the basis of their unreasonable delay.

The Court ordered the FAA and NPS to finalize air tour management plans for 24 parks by August 31, 2022. For more than a year, the agencies filed quarterly progress reports with the Court claiming they were on target to meet this date. In their latest filing, however, the agencies now say they will be unable to complete plans for the eight parks with some of the highest levels of air traffic within that deadline, claiming that finalizing plans for –

    • Lake Mead and Canyon de Chelly will take at least another year;
    • Glen Canyon and Rainbow Bridge will take at least another 18 months; and
    • Mount Rushmore, Badlands, Hawaiˈi Volcanoes, and Haleakalā National Parks will take at least an additional year but “have the potential to delay completion” even longer.

“These agencies that are under court order precisely because of their unreasonable delay are now subjecting the U.S. Court of Appeals to even more unreasonable delay,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, arguing that the agencies have yet to formally begin the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review on these eight parks, a process that will likely take far longer than the agencies’ most recent estimate. “Our motion asks the Court to suspend all overflights in parks without properly finished air tour management plans as of August 31, 2022.”

The agencies are currently projecting completion by the Court’s deadline for only 11 parks out of the 24 under court order. For 15 parks, the agencies now say they will avoid the NEPA process altogether by declaring “Categorical Exclusions” despite receiving more than 21,000 public comments. Instead of doing noise surveys or any environmental analysis, the agencies will simply grandfather in, on a permanent basis, the current air traffic levels previously accepted without any review on an “interim” basis in the following park units:

Glacier, Death Valley, Golden Gate, Muir Woods, Point Reyes, Olympic, Everglades, Mount Rainier, Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, Bryce Canyon, Bandelier, Great Smoky Mountains, and San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

“These agencies do not seem to grasp that the whole idea of air tour management plans is to make sure noisy air tours do not disturb wildlife or prevent park visitors from finding peace and quiet,” added Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, noting the Court declined to address the issue of NEPA noncompliance last fall but will have to face it again as the August deadline approaches. “It will require additional judicial intervention to enforce the law protecting national parks from abusive commercial intrusion.”


Read the PEER enforcement motion

View latest FAA/NPS progress report

Look at lack of environmental review for plans near completion

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