Karen Walker/ATLANTA

AROUND 250 OPERATORS which specialise in providing air tours over national parks in the USA face being put out of business by proposed laws which could lead to a ban of all such flights.

The US Air Tour Association (USATA) and the Helicopter Association International (HAI) are leading campaigns against the proposals, which they feel threaten the existence of all US sightseeing-tour operators and could end a business worth some $625 million annually.

The HAI protests: "This ill-conceived and pre-emptive proposal is a political ploy on the part of the Department of Transportation [DoT] Secretary Federico Pena, who must be posturing for elected office in Colorado after he leaves his present position."

The US Federal Aviation Administration has proposed banning commercial overflights at the Rocky Mountain National Park, a move which is welcomed by environmentalists. No aircraft tours operate over the park, but the USATA and HAI fear that the move will set a precedent for other parks. They also argue that the FAA and the DoT are giving in to political pressures.

The FAA is expected soon to unveil a proposed rule which will dramatically modify existing regulations governing flights in the Grand Canyon, severely limiting or banning those tours.

USATA president Dan Anderson says that some 2 million people take aviation tours over national parks each year, with less environmental impact than from visitors on foot or in cars.

HAI president Frank Jensen says that the Rocky Mountain proposal sets a "damaging precedent" and adds that it is "-ostensibly a reaction to very isolated reports of aircraft noise over park areas, none of which can be positively attributed to helicopter tour operations".

He estimates that between 25 and 30 US helicopter operators depend largely or fully on air-tours businesses.

Source: Flight International