Sharp Reduction of Air Tours Slated for Two Hawaii Parks
Current Incessant Overflight Levels Deemed Incompatible with Park Values
Washington, DC —Two Hawaiian national parks long besieged by swarms of commercial air tours – Hawaiʻi Volcanoes and Haleakalā – would get some significant relief under a new federal plan. The plan was adopted under a court order won by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono (HICoP), and allied groups.
Under the proposed Air Tour Management Plans jointly announced this week by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Park Service (NPS), substantial reductions in air tour traffic would become effective as soon as environmental assessments are complete:
- Overflights at Hawai’i Volcanoes would be limited to 1,565 a year. Currently, 10 air tour operators are authorized to conduct 26,664 commercial air tours annually and have averaged 11,376 overflights each year between 2017 and 2019; and
- Overflights at Haleakalā, would be limited to 2,412 per year. Currently, six operators are authorized to conduct 25,827 commercial air tours annually but have averaged 4,824 air tours per year during the period from 2017-2019.
Today marks the beginning of a 30-day public comment period on the proposals.
“It has taken more than twenty years and no small amount of litigation to finally force the FAA and Park Service to implement the National Air Tour Management Act of 2000,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein who brought the lawsuit resulting in a Court of Appeal order that the two agencies adopt air tour management plans in 23 national parks. “Notably, these plans are the first being prepared with required environmental assessments that look at the impacts of hundreds of noisy overflights each year.”
The two agencies have already adopted air tour management plans for 13 other national parks during the past few months without conducting any environmental assessment or other compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). For many of those 13 parks, the two agencies simply took the actual number of air tours over the past three years and adopted that average as the plan. Another 5 parks have yet to begin their NEPA reviews.
Earlier this year, PEER and allied groups again sued the two federal agencies for its failure to conduct environmental assessments or otherwise comply with NEPA in grandfathering continued air tours over the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Point Reyes National Seashore, and two other San Francisco Bay Area park units.
“We are glad that these agencies are finally examining the impacts of overflights to protect park soundscapes and the visitor experience,” added Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the agencies this week also are using the NEPA process in proposing air tour management plans for Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Badlands National Park for the first time. “National parks are now on the verge of reclaiming control over their skies.”