It’s been 20 years since the Air Tour Management Act of 2000, governing the nature and frequency of commercial sightseeing flights in national parks, was enacted and a federal judge says it’s time the FAA and National Parks Service started enforcing it. Circuit Court Judge Thomas Griffith told the agencies to end their turf war over the legislation and come up with a plan to actually implement it. A suit was launched by environmental groups in Hawaii to get air tour rules in place in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala National Park, which have the highest and fourth highest air tour traffic of 23 parks covered by the act. “This case arises out of the underwhelming—and ultimately unsuccessful—efforts of the (FAA)and National Park Service to regulate commercial sightseeing flights over national parks,” Griffith said in a written judgment.
The act, which requires air tour companies to get permits to fly in the 23 parks, was supposed to be implemented in two years after enactment. It gives the authorities power to limit the number and scope of tour operations, including banning overflight of some areas. In defending the suit, the agencies said it was really hard to design air tour management plans and the timeline in the legislation is “aspirational.” Griffiths dismissed the arguments, saying the difficulties in implementation result mainly from “an interagency turf war” and he suggested they start mending fences right away. “Left to their own devices, the agencies have failed to comply with their statutory mandate for the past 19 years,” he wrote. “… We fully expect that the agencies will make every effort to produce a plan that will enable them to complete the task within two years, as Congress directed.”