Tour industry approaches formula for sightseeing flights as 2000 Act regulating safety is poised to go into practice

After 17 years of damaging regulatory uncertainty, the US air tour industry expects to achieve agreement on a viable aircraft noise policy for operating sightseeing flights over the US National Parks, says US Air Tour Association (USATA) president Steve Bassett. He expects all the stakeholders to meet in June with what he judges to be a realistic agenda.

Meanwhile, the National Park Air Tour Management Act (NPATMA) of 2000, which sets standards for routeing systems and safety procedures, will be put into practice for the first time in two Hawaiian national parks. Experience there is expected to help the other 100 US national parks formulate workable systems, explains Bassett.

On 29 March, the US Federal Aviation Administration published a Final Rule on "Noise Limitations for Aircraft Operations in the Vicinity of Grand Canyon National Park", which defines the noise limits for "quiet technology" (QT) standards.

The purely mathematical definition has surprised air tour companies, because it does not state that aircraft meet the criteria. "The noise figures don't mean anything to operators," Bassett says.

The USATA has been expecting definitions of QT standards and incentives for adopting them since 2000, "but so far we don't have either", Bassett says. He explains that, for years, operators have been investing in quieter aircraft and QT modifications in the absence of guidance, hoping for rights to fly additional routes and more flights using the quietest aircraft.

There is light on the horizon, however, as the Department of the Interior (DoI) and the FAA are expected to call a "conflict resolution" meeting in June that will bring stakeholders together for the first time, with a view to a clear outcome. Stakeholders include the National Park Service, the FAA, air tour operators, Native Americans and the environmental community. The objectives are to agree noise regulation, define QT and incentives for its use, and best practice. The difference now, he says, is that the environmental groups had originally aimed at eliminating national park air touring altogether, arguing the right to absolute quiet on the ground, but now all parties are ready to compromise.

Meanwhile, air tour management plans (ATMP) based on the NPATMA will be applied to routeing and safety procedures in the Hawaii Volcanoes Park and Halaekala Park in the coming months, with seven other parks set to complete the initial phase. Eventually, ATMPs will be drawn up for all National Parks with sightseeing flights.


Source: Flight International