For Immediate Release: Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Contact: Paula Dinerstein email@example.com; Kirsten Stade firstname.lastname@example.org
Long-Delayed Curbs on Noisy Park Overflights Slated
FAA Posts Air Tour Management Plan Schedule Covering 23 National Parks
Washington, DC — Long-overdue plans to limit noise and disruption caused by air tours over national parks are finally taking off, according to filings posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Under court order from a PEER lawsuit, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced the schedule for developing air tour management plans for 23 national parks which are all to be finalized by May 1, 2022.
Under terms of the National Park Air Tour Management Act (NPTMA) of 2000, the FAA and the National Park Service were supposed to establish rules governing the number, routes, and schedules of helicopter and fixed-wing park tourist overflights with two years. Twenty years later, not a single such plan has been adopted.
In 2019, PEER and the Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono (HICoP) jointly petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to issue a writ of mandamus to compel the agencies to implement the NPTMA. In a May 2020 ruling, the court agreed and ordered the FAA to publish a schedule, by August 31st, for finalizing management plans within two years covering the 23 parks which legally require such plans (i.e., more than 50 flights per year).
These 23 parks are located in 15 states, ranging from Hawaii to New York and from Washington to Florida. They report more than 45,000 air tours per year, topped by Hawaii Volcanoes which records an average of more than 22 overflights every day of the year. Affected park units also include Mount Rushmore, Everglades, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Great Smoky Mountains, Glacier, Golden Gate, Lake Mead, and Point Reyes National Seashore.
“These air tours are noisy and usually low-flying, adversely affecting both wildlife and park visitors, as well as residents in gateway communities,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who argued the litigation. “This lawsuit was needed to protect national parks from being loved to death by incessant overflights.”
For the past two decades, the FAA has been issuing interim approvals that essentially have grandfathered-in existing flight levels. The FAA has also sought voluntary agreements with tour operators who had little reason to consent to reduced flights because they had no reason to fear mandatory restrictions, until now.
“National parks cannot limit overflights, no matter how damaging, without cooperation from the FAA, which has heretofore not been forthcoming, absent a court order,” added Dinerstein, noting that the court order requires FAA and the NPS to agree on management plans but does not speak to the quality of those plans. “We are happy the process for developing these park overflight plans has finally begun, but, if past is prologue, it will take a lot of work and public pressure to see them to a satisfactory conclusion.”