Noise-reduction plan for Grand Canyon released

Public comments sought by June 6

February 9, 2011

AOPA is encouraging members to study and submit comments on the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) released by the National Park Service that proposes four alternatives for addressing aircraft noise above Grand Canyon National Park. While the intent of the law that led to the draft was primarily to address air tour noise over the canyon, there are some proposed changes for all operations over the canyon.

“The Draft EIS was developed to address the mandate of the 1987 National Parks Overflights Act to provide for substantial restoration of the natural quiet and experience of Grand Canyon National Park and for protection of public health and safety from adverse effects associated with aircraft overflights,” said the National Park Service in a Feb. 2 news release.

“Through the Draft EIS, the NPS is proposing a plan for managing helicopter and airplane flights over Grand Canyon. These flights currently carry more than 400,000 visitors above the canyon each year. Like all other uses in the park, air-tours play an important role in visitor enjoyment,” the release said, noting the need for “more thoughtful management” to avoid noise conflicts with park users on the ground.

The draft EIS puts forth the National Park Service’s preferred alternative and three other remedies considered for addressing noise. Public comments can be submitted until June 6.

“Our members have fought to maintain access to one of the country’s most unique landmarks,” said Heidi Williams, AOPA senior director of airspace and modernization. “The ability to transit the Grand Canyon National Park by aircraft is yet another way to partake of, and explore this magnificent natural resource.”

AOPA participated in the Grand Canyon Working Group, which had the task of assisting the National Park Service and the FAA in developing alternatives to restore natural quiet in the park. Its multi-year efforts resulted in the preferred alternative that maintains the existing four general aviation corridors for transiting the park. One change proposed is raising the ceiling of the Flight Free Zones to 17,999 feet msl. AOPA will assess the alternatives and comment on any potential impact of the proposed changes, Williams said.

Here are some key provisions of the National Park Service’s preferred alternative.

  • Increasing restoration of natural quiet from 53 percent to 67 percent by reducing aircraft noise in the park.
  • Allowing for 65,000 air-tour and air-tour related operations annually (8,000 more air-tour flights than what was reported by air tour operators).
  • Providing long and short loop air tour routes, with a seasonal shift in short routes at six-month intervals.
  • Moving most non-air tour operations outside of the park.
  • Moving routes away from many sensitive cultural, natural, and visitor use areas.
  • Setting a daily cap of 364 flights classified as air tours (50 air-tour flights more than what was reported for a peak day in 2005—the base year for analysis in the draft EIS).
  • Increasing flight altitudes near North Rim viewpoints.
  • Reducing routes in Marble Canyon.
  • Requiring full conversion to quiet technology, also known as QT aircraft, within 10 years.
  • Providing at least one hour of quiet time before sunset and after sunrise every day.
  • Making no changes to the four existing general aviation flight corridors.
  • Raising flight free zone ceilings to 17,999 feet.

The Draft EIS can be downloaded, and comments can be submitted on the National Park Service Planning, Environment, and Public Comment database (PEPC). Select the link labeled “Special Flight Rules Area in the Vicinity of Grand Canyon National Park.” This site also will be the location for any updates on public meetings and locations, and information on the DEIS.

Comments may be mailed to: Superintendent, Attn: Office of Planning and Compliance, P.O. Box 129, Grand Canyon, Arizona 86023.

The National Park Service also plans to hold five informational meetings on the Draft EIS, in Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Grand Canyon, Ariz.; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Las Vegas, with details to be announced soon.