New legislation now in the works would allow the National Park Service to regulate air tour operators in airspace above U.S. national parks, Helicopter Association International said this week. HAI said the proposal is "unacceptable, establishes a dangerous precedent, and would transfer the FAA's statutory role in overseeing air safety to third parties." The amendment (PDF) to the Senate version of the Highway Authorization bill would grant authority to the Park Service director to regulate commercial air tours above the parks and within a half mile of park borders. If it passes, the bill would enable the Park Service to unilaterally eliminate air tours above the parks, HAI said.
"This amendment would lead to lost jobs for pilots, drivers, guides, and support staff of air tour providers and the local businesses that rely on them," said HAI, "with a ripple effect of lower manufacturing employment within the helicopter parts and maintenance industry." HAI also raised safety concerns, noting that "the last time the National Park Service exerted undue influence on air routes over a national park, a midair collision between a fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter resulted." Various proposals have been in the works for about 25 years to try to restrict park overflights, according to USA Today. Proponents cite noise concerns, saying visitors have a right to expect "natural quiet" in the parks.