Wednesday, March 24, 2004

State air tour regulations
to soon be usurped

The FAA is creating a plan to
regulate flights over national parks

National Park Service officials say aircraft noise has been significantly reduced over federal parks on Maui and the Big Island since agreements were made with helicopter tour operators several years ago.

But officials are unsure if flight restrictions in the parks will continue, as the Federal Aviation Administration begins to create an Air Tour Management Plan regulating air tours over more than 385 National Park sites, including six sites in Hawaii.

"Everything is wide open now," said Haleakala National Park Superintendent Donald Reeser. "We'd like to see at least as good a program."

The Federal Aviation Administration starts a series of "scoping" meetings today on the Big Island and Maui to receive public testimony about air tour operations.

The air tour plan, mandated by Congress, would expand air tour regulation to virtually all national park sites in Hawaii, including Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site and Kalaupapa National Historic Park.

Helicopter tour restrictions in Hawaii have mainly focused on flights to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island and Haleakala National Park on Maui.

The Federal Aviation Administration in 1994 required Hawaii helicopter air tours to fly no lower than 1,500 feet above the nearest ground except on landings, takeoffs, and emergencies.

Under an agreement later established between helicopter tour operators and national park officials, tour flight corridors were designated at Haleakala and Volcanoes.

The agreement also allowed helicopters to fly lower than 1,500 feet in designated areas at national parks at Haleakala and Volcanoes.

Reeser said rather than flying 1,500 feet over Haleakala crater and projecting a broad sound, tour helicopters have generally agreed to travel around the park and at a lower elevation near the southeast rim, where they can obtain a better view and their noise is partially blocked by the ridge.

Hawaii Volcanoes Park spokeswoman Mardie Lane said she's pleased with the way tour operators now avoid flying over the summit of the Big Island's Kilauea crater, the fabled home of the Hawaiian fire goddess Pele as well as nene resting sites along the east rift.

"They're respecting the cultural significance and natural resources," she said.

Lane said visitors come to the park to experience the sounds of nature, including endangered native Hawaiian birds such as the i'iwi.

Lane said since the restrictions and agreement between the air tour operators, she's also noticed an improvement in air safety.

As of April 5, 2000, helicopter tours have been restricted to making no more than the number of flights they have listed in their operator's application.

The federal air tour plan will also require an environmental assessment.


Public invited to comment

A schedule of public meetings is available at: (PDF format, 721K)

Written responses may be sent by April 12 to Docket Management System, Doc. No. FAA-2004-17174, U.S. Department of Transportation, Room Plaza 401, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20590-001.

Documents about specific parks are available at the Hawaii State Library on Oahu and at most libraries on Maui, Molokai, Lanai and the Big Island. The FAA Air Tour Management Plan Program Web site is at

For more information, contact Steve May, Air Tour Management Plan Program manager, Executive Resource Staff, AWP-4, Federal Aviation Administration, Western-Pacific Region, P.O. Box 92007, Los Angeles, CA 90009-2007, telephone (310) 725-3808 or e-mail .


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