Air Tour Armageddon Averted in Transportation Bill
The final version of the federal highway bill that was passed on Friday narrows the focus of an amendment proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and strongly supported by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to expand the powers of the director of the National Park Service (NPS) to restrict air-tour flights nationwide. Alexander and Wyden walked away with parochial victories: the final bill gives the NPS director the authority to deny air tour operations over the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and the Crater Lake National Park in Oregon without the establishment of an air-tour management plan.
Alexander’s original amendment conveyed the NPS director this power over all national parks and federal tribal lands. The bill also requires air-tour operators flying over the Grand Canyon to convert to quiet-technology aircraft within 15 years. It directs the FAA to develop incentives such as increased flight slots for operators converting to these new, quieter aircraft.
“We could not have asked for a better outcome,” said Helicopter Association International president Matt Zuccaro. President Obama is expected to sign the measure this week.