FOR RELEASE: October 08, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202)265-7337
FAA Touts Belated Baby Steps in 7 Parks to Forestall Judicial Intervention
Washington, DC — Facing a potential court order, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Park Service (NPS) vow to take action but are offering little relief from noisy air tours droning over national parks, according to a new filing in a lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono (HICoP). The suit is aimed at forcing the FAA to finally adopt mandatory air tour management plans under legislation enacted nearly 20 years ago.
The National Park Air Tour Management Act of 2000 requires the FAA, in coordination with the NPS, to set limits on overflight numbers, timing, and routes to protect park resources and the visitor experience. Despite more than 47,000 park overflights annually, FAA and NPS have yet to adopt a single air tour management plan.
The PEER and HICoP suit, now awaiting a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, asks the court to order mandatory deadlines for adoption of air tour limits covering seven parks that account for more than half of the overflights: Hawaii Volcanoes, Haleakalā, Glacier, Bryce Canyon, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Muir Woods National Monument.
In a late, unscheduled filing, the FAA and NPS announced that they would seek voluntary agreements with air tour operators in seven parks, only one of which (Great Smoky Mountains) is part of the PEER suit. The other six are Death Valley, Mount Rainier, and Badlands National Parks, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Unfortunately, the FAA’s plan is –
- Generally reliant upon the consent of air tour operators even though the two agencies have repeatedly tried to initiate air tour management plans without success;
- No guarantee of any flight reductions. The FAA has already granted interim air approvals for far more than the actual number of tours; and
- Slow and uncertain, as the FAA schedule extends into 2022 with no firm deadlines.
“If there is no credible threat of a mandatory limit, tour operators have zero incentive to voluntarily impose one,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein. “The government’s latest filing only reinforces the case for judicial intervention since FAA and NPS appear institutionally incapable of constraining commercial aviation, no matter how damaging to parks.”
The PEER and HICoP suit seeks a court order for final adoption of air tour management plans in the seven parks in the suit within the next two years, unless a voluntary plan is negotiated in the interim.
“The constant buzz from air tours during parks’ peak seasons disturbs wildlife and destroys any sense of serenity for park visitors,” added Dinerstein, pointing to parks, such as Hawaii Volcanoes, besieged by constant year-round helicopter noise, with as many as 80 flights a day, with no prospects for relief. “Litigation is necessary because waiting for FAA and NPS to act is worse than waiting for Godot.”