FAA Off Course on National Park Air Tour Plans 

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Tuesday, October 12, 2021
Paula Dinerstein

FAA Off Course on National Park Air Tour Plans

No Environmental or Noise Assessments Inform Draft Management Plans

Washington, DC — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Park Service (NPS) are skipping key steps required under law as they struggle to finalize long-delayed air tour management plans for all national parks with significant tourist overflights. Today, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a motion to compel compliance by the FAA and NPS with the court order it won to complete air tour management plans by next August for 23 national parks, including Glacier, Everglades, Golden Gate, Olympic, Mount Rushmore, and Hawaii Volcanoes.

PEER’s motion before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia cites the lack of any apparent observance by the agencies of the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires review of potential environmental impacts as well as consideration of alternatives.  Instead, the agencies have filed a total of 11 “Draft Air Tour Management Plans” to date using a standardized template that –

  • Permits the exact number of overflights currently occurring, which had been approved on an interim basis without environmental review, without any rationale or consideration of alternatives;
  • Omits any consideration of environmental effects of the noisy air tours on wildlife, wilderness, tribal lands, or the experience of visitors seeking peace and quiet; and
  • Contains few, if any, meaningful restrictions on air routes or timing to minimize impacts.

“These FAA drafts do not contain a fraction of the work required by law,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, noting that there is no evidence to support agency claims to the court that they are actually preparing environmental documents.  “Grandfathering in the precise number of current air tours makes a mockery of the National Park Air Tour Management Act.”

As the agencies have yet to even begin the NEPA compliance process, PEER contends that there is no possible way for the agencies to meet the court-ordered deadline of August 2022 to have completed air tour plans for all 23 parks.  Moreover, the agencies appear to have started with the parks with the least air traffic, leaving parks generating the most complaints still to be done.

The PEER suit was based on the claim of unreasonable delay based on the failure to complete a single plan in more than 20 years since the enactment of the National Park Air Tour Management Act of 2000.  Ironically, during the litigation the agencies’ explanation for the years of inaction included their inability to resolve “past disagreements regarding NEPA compliance.”

“The months since we won the court order has been a replay of the massive passive resistance the FAA has exhibited for the past twenty years,” added Dinerstein, pointing out the agencies risk sanctions for violating a court order. “One key holdup is that the FAA appears allergic to the notion that commercial flights can negatively affect national parks.”

The FAA’s approach has been so cookie-cutter that one draft plan, for Bandelier National Monument, had to be re-posted since it incorrectly retained language from the draft plan for Glacier National Park.  The Glacier language, promising a phase-out of all air tours, was unique but did not explain when or how that phase-out would be accomplished.


Read the PEER enforcement motion

Look at the FAA/NPS compliance schedule

Revisit the PEER lawsuit and resulting court order
See the Bandelier/Glacier mix-up

See a standard template draft air tour management plan

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