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FAA delays implementation of new Grand Canyon air traffic routesFAA delays implementation of new Grand Canyon air traffic routes

FAA delays implementation of new Grand Canyon air traffic routes
House Transportation Committee chairman says FAA's got it wrong

Rep. Don Young
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young

The FAA has again delayed the implementation of new flight routes over the east end of Grand Canyon National Park and adjoining Navajo Nation lands. What that means for GA pilots is that they can - for the moment - continue to use the four VFR corridors through the Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA).

But according to the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, the FAA and the National Park Service are improperly going after general aviation in their long-range plans.

And if GA pilots want to keep those routes across the Grand Canyon, they need to weigh in on the current environmental scoping process. AOPA needs members to complete a short survey on how they use the existing VFR corridors to help the association fight for continued GA access.

The issue, of course, is noise. Right now that issue is pitting powerful senators and congressmen against the FAA and National Park Service and the federal courts. And the big question is if general aviation is going to get caught up in it.

Congress told the park service and the FAA in the 1987 Overflights Act that they were to substantially restore "natural quiet" to the canyon. The concern was the proliferation of commercial air tour flights. But how to define natural quiet, and who should be regulated besides the air tour operators?

A federal appeals court interpreted the law to mean that every aircraft even in the vicinity of the park should be considered a noise contributor, and that "quiet" would be measured on the noisiest day of the year.

That's not what Congress intended, said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska).

"The Overflights Act and the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000 were intended to address the low altitude operations and repetitive noise generated by air tours over [Grand Canyon National Park] and other national parks," Chairman Young recently wrote to both the FAA and the National Park Service.

"At no time did Congress intend for all aircraft operations within a block of airspace extending to 20 nautical miles from the farthest edge of the GCNP boundary and at all altitudes, including general aviation, military, and commercial overflight activities, be included in the equation."

Young said that approach would have a profound and "quite frankly unacceptable" impact on the National Airspace System.

"To put it simply, the agencies should not consider any alternative that would impact overflights of GCNP other than low-flying air tour operations. This rightfully reflects the intent of Congress," Young said.

AOPA is a member of the Grand Canyon overflight working group tasked with helping the FAA and National Park Service with finding ways to reduce noise in the national park.

AOPA has consistently worked to maintain VFR overflight of the canyon at non-oxygen altitudes, arguing that transient GA aircraft do not materially contribute to the noise problem. AOPA has pointed out that while GA pilots are enjoying our national treasures from the air, they have much less environmental impact than most ground-based visitors.

March 9, 2006

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