Skies Above Mt. Rushmore & Badlands to Remain Quiet

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Monday, June 10, 2024
Colleen Teubner (202) 464-2293
Peter Jenkins (202) 265-4189


Skies Above Mt. Rushmore & Badlands to Remain Quiet

8th Circuit Rejects Helicopter Tour Industry Attempt to Stay Overflight Ban


Washington, DC — A federal court has rejected a legal effort by the air tour industry to suspend a new federal ban on overflights across Mount Rushmore National Monument and Badlands National Park, according to the ruling posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which had intervened in the case. As a result, the newly instituted prohibition on noisy and disruptive air tours across these two iconic parks will remain in place.

This action is the latest phase in a multi-year effort by PEER to enforce the long-neglected National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000. That law requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Park Service (NPS) to jointly develop plans to prevent commercial tours over national parks from disturbing wildlife, detracting from the visitor experience, or otherwise adversely affecting park resources.

For 22 years the two agencies did not produce a single air tour management plan in any national park until a successful PEER lawsuit spurred a court-ordered schedule for adopting such plans at more than 20 national parks, ranging from Hawaii Volcanoes to New York Harbor.

In November 2023, the two agencies finalized air tour management plans for Mount Rushmore National Monument and Badlands National Park that ended all further overflights. The bans went into effect on May 13 this year. Before the bans went into effect, the companies offering air tours (Badger Helicopters, Black Hills Aerial Adventures, and Rushmore Helicopters) filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit seeking to overturn the air tour management plans.

PEER and the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, which PEER represents in this case, were granted intervenor status to join in the defense of the two federal agencies’ decisions to ban further air tours. As a preliminary move, the helicopter companies asked the Court to suspend the newly imposed bans. However, on Friday, June 7, in a one sentence order, the 8th Circuit rejected the companies’ motion for a stay.

“One key element to winning a stay is the ability to show a likelihood of prevailing on the merits, and the court found that these companies failed to meet that burden,” commented PEER Litigation and Policy Attorney Colleen Teubner, who participated in the case. “Given Friday’s ruling, we have every reason to be optimistic about our chances of success in defending the air tour management plans.”

Nationally, following the 2020 court order, the NPS and FAA have completed air tour management plans for 21 of 23 parks. PEER is in court challenging the adequacy of air tour plans adopted for four San Francisco Bay Area parks.

“This case illustrates that Congress merely passing a law is not enough; nothing happens without agency implementation,” added PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins, noting the irony that in this case, PEER was aligned with the FAA and NPS after previously suing them. “Hopefully, we are in the final stages of our efforts to restore control over their skies to the national parks.”


See the 8th Circuit one-sentence ruling

Read the PEER opposition brief

Compare helicopter industry reply 

Look at decision to end Mt. Rushmore and Badlands overflights

Examine PEER litigation to enforce National Park Air Tour Management Act

View latest progress report on air tour management plans

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