n a beach of the Colorado River or along a trail deep inside the
Grand Canyon, I've been rousted from my solitude by that dang
It's not exactly like a fleet of Huey choppers, their rotor
blades thumping in unison like that memorable scene from Apocalypse
Now, but you get the picture.
But, their intrusiveness is as appreciated as a scorpion sting.
They annoy when you only want to be left alone, when the only sights
and sounds you want are those of Mother Nature: the changing hues
of canyon walls; zephyrs rolling through an inner canyon; falling
water over rocks; the roar of the river; a boulder tumbling down
a slope; birds chirping at Indian Garden and condors soaring high
above. Even a pesky fly is tolerable, far preferable to a noisy
machine made by man.
Canyon sounds are distinctive. Decibel levels don't matter.
I find a thunder and lightning show at the Grand Canyon, or rivulets
of water cascading over canyon rims after a downpour, awe inspiring.
These are sights and sounds to behold.
Not so the sights and sounds of droning aircraft.
They infringe upon your privacy.
They ruin your park experience.
They turn a peaceful and special moment into something quite forgettable,
like a day stuck at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
That said, planes do have a place in the airspace over the Grand
Canyon, but not as much as the lucrative air tour industry would
It wants to be rewarded for making investments in quiet technology,
as in the lifting of flight caps and curfews and getting the OK
to fly in new corridors.
It says it needs these incentives because new technology is expensive,
and it wants to be sure that their investment will not drive them
I've heard this before. In the mid-1980s a rash of accidents
inside the Grand Canyon sparked a ban on below-the-rim flights and
the creation of flight-free zones. In passing the Overflights Act
of 1987, Congress agreed that it was good public policy to preserve
park values, but the industry said restrictions would drive them
out of business.
They were wrong then because the industry has prospered. The number
of flights has doubled, and, with it, the endless quest for the
"substantial restoration of natural quiet seems more
and more difficult to achieve.
It surely will be if the industry gets the incentives that it covets,
incentives that Sen. John McCain,
R-Ariz., seems intent on providing.
His amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization
bill has infuriated environmental groups, Indian tribes in the Canyon
and the National Park Service. They can't understand why the
man who led the fight to impose overflight restrictions would sponsor
an amendment that could take Grand Canyon National Park back to
the wild days of no caps and no curfews and unlimited flight corridors.
Says Rob Smith of the Sierra Club, Grand Canyon is the one
thing that John McCain points to with pride on an otherwise slim
But there the amendment is, in black and white. It gives the FAA
nine months to designate reasonably achievable requirements
for quiet technology. But if it can'tand this is the
bewildering partthen all planes are deemed quiet and free
to fly the Canyon at will.
It boggles the imagination, says Rob Arnberger, superintendent
at Grand Canyon National Park, who fears this could set us
back to before the Overflights Act was enacted. He adds, There
is no such thing as a quiet aircraft unless it's a flying saucer
from outer space.
He's right. Planes of any feather are noisy.
Why can't the air tour industry make the investment to quieter
planes on its own? Why can't it do the right thing and be a
willing player in the quest for natural quiet? Why can't it
accept limits like all other commercial ventures that use this grand
resourcefrom river runners to campsites and backcountry use?
Sure, they might have to raise fees, but so what?
The park's values are compromised as is, and further degradation
ought to be vigorously resisted.
The Arizona Republic, October 14,1999
Used with permission.
Permission does not imply endorsement.Write your Senators and Congressmen
if you feel strongly about this issue.
Also write to:
Sen. John McCain
241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20515