HAI Slams Parks Air Tour Plans for South Dakota and Hawaii
by Mark Huber, AIA Online, June 5, 2023
The Helicopter Association International (HAI) is urging its members to voice strong opposition to draft air tour management plans (ATMPs) that would eliminate helitours altogether in South Dakota over both the Mount Rushmore National Monument and Badlands National Park and severely limit them at two locations in Hawaii; the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island and the Haleakalā National Park on Maui. Members are urged to comment before the June 20 deadline.
HAI maintains that the FAA and the National Park Service prepared the ATMPs without regard to the economic impact of the decision and in a manner that was biased against helitours in general. It further maintains that the limiting rules, that would slash air tours by 86 percent at Volcanoes National Park and by 50 percent at Haleakalā, impose burdensome additional costs to operators and, in some cases, increase the noise profile over residential areas and endanger safety.
The association pointed out that an average of 1,425 air tours are conducted over the Badlands every year and 3,914 over Mount Rushmore. While the goal of the ATMPs is to eliminate air tours in these locations, HAI suggests that operators would shift flight patterns to fly adjacent to the boundaries of these sites, increasing noise over residential areas, thereby “resulting in significant community impact. Those impacts include significant safety concerns that were not addressed in the preparation of the plan.”
For Hawaii air tours, HAI objects to ATMP requirements including the mandatory installation of satellite tracking devices and related subscription plans—as opposed to relying on ADS-B—as well as ambiguously defined “quiet technology incentives” which the NPS will award on an economically untenable case-by-case basis, and new routing that poses both safety and residential noise concerns. HAI notes that mandating “strict corridors with fixed and rotary wing [aircraft] at the same altitude along with the changing weather patterns in the Hawaiian Islands is a very real safety concern. Also of concern, the proposed routes now move air tour operations over communities the industry has worked with over many years to avoid flying over. Moving routes will also move the sound of operations over new areas.”
According to the NPS, in recent years there were an average of 11,376 annual tour flights over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and 4,824 over Haleakalā. The draft AMTP would slash those to a maximum annual allowable 1,565 and 2,412 at the locations, respectively.
HAI notes that “the National Parks should be available for all visitors to see. Limiting flights over the park unfairly limits access to the elderly, very young, disabled, and others. [It] is discriminating to those who might not have the time, resources, or physical ability to see the park any other way.”