In conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Park Service (NPS) has introduced strict new rules for air tour operators conducting sightseeing within national parks.
The new restrictions stem from the National Park Air Tour Management Act of 2000—legislation signed into law requiring operators conducting commercial air tours over national parks, or over tribal lands, to get permission from the FAA to do so. The act was intended to protect the parks’ natural resources and enhance visitors’ experience.
While plans have rolled out at nearly two dozen national parks and monuments nationwide, the most restrictive measures are found at Mt. Rushmore and Badlands National Park—essentially requiring air tour operators to avoid flying within a half-mile of the sites and at least 5,000 feet above ground level when over the park.
The plans have drawn backlash from local operators and members of the Helicopter Association International (HAI) who pressed Congress to reevaluate the rules in Dec. 5 testimony.
“The ATMP for Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Badlands National Park eliminates any aerial tour flights of these areas. This action affects more than 9,000 flights that were previously approved by the FAA. It has effectively put an end to our operations there,” said Mark A. Schlaefli, president of Rushmore Helicopters, Black Hills Aerial Adventures and Badger Helicopters, and vice chair of the HAI Board of Directors.
The new rules are set to take effect in April 2024.