Air Traffic

   In the last issue I mentioned that the NPS should soon release their long awaited report on the air traffic issue. (That’s the one they were supposed to write and submit to Congress by 1990 about the effectiveness of the new rules imposed by the 1987 National Park Overflights Act.)

   Well, I guess what they were talking about was simply a PROGRESS report on how the FINAL report was coming along, which wasn’t expected to be finished until well into 1994. However, at a Congressional hearing on November 16th, Bruce Vento, a Congressman from Minnesota, was outspokenly displeased at the tardiness of the report. Responding to his pressure, the Park Service was forced to “move things up a few months,” according to Mike Ebersole of Grand Canyon National Park.

   Plans for the progress report have been scrapped, the final report has been placed on a front burner, and NPS personnel have been re-aligned to expedite its completion. Primary authors will be Mike Ebersole and Linda Mazzu, also of Grand Canyon National Park. The new projected date for release of the report is late March, 1994.

   According to Ebersole, they don’t yet have a “preferred alternative”, but by March they must come up with one. The report will include their interpretation of the acoustical and sociological research results, and conclude with a recommendation as to what should be done.

   Some input for the report will be generated from an Oversight Group Workshop, a “2-day brainstorming”, tentatively scheduled for early March to which GCRG will be invited. Other participants should include representatives from the NPS, the air tour industry, the FAA, environmental organizations, and the Native American Tribes. That meeting was previously scheduled for last fall, but was postponed due to yet another report that is overdue, the Executive Summary of the acoustic and sociological studies.

   Once the Congressional report is complete, Ebersole predicts it will become a “political football.” “No telling how much it will be changed.” He expects that the FAA will come out with a Special Federal Aviation Regulation by 1995 at the earliest.

   Meanwhile, Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt has created a joint working group between the Department of Transportation and the Department of the Interior to explore ways of limiting or reducing aircraft noise at Grand Canyon and other national parks.

   Congressman Vento continues to shake things up. In a December 23rd letter to Federico Pena, Secretary of Transportation, he urged the joint working committee to take action against the proposed expansion of helicopter facilities at Grand Canyon National Park Airport. He charged that the expansion was “ apparent violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the FAA’s own environmental guidelines. The resulting increase in helicopter tours over the Grand Canyon National Park will increase aircraft noise and will undermine the ability of both the FAA and NPS to achieve the goal of the National Parks Overflights Act of 1987.”

   He suggested that the joint working group “...suspend any further construction of new helicopter facilities...” as well as “...establish an enforceable limit on the number of helicopter operations...” until the reports are completed and new regulations have been implemented.

   Vento is preparing to submit legislation to Congress that would affect flights over all national parks. Meanwhile, the air tour industry is beginning to organize in preparation for the inevitable battles.

Jeri Ledbetter