Air Tour Management Plan - Death Valley National Park

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Proposed Action:

The proposed action is to implement an Air Tour Management Plan (ATMP) that would delineate acceptable levels of commercial air tours including, but not limited to, frequency, duration, altitude, and routes, consistent with the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000 (Act). Congress developed the Act out of concern that noise from tour aircraft could harm national park resources and experiences for visitors.

Background and Purpose:

The Act, as amended, requires that all commercial air tour operators conducting or intending to conduct a commercial air tour operation over a unit of the National Park system apply to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for authority to undertake such activity. The Act further requires the FAA, in cooperation with the National Park Service (NPS), to establish an ATMP or voluntary agreement for each park that did not have such a plan or agreement in place at the time the applications were made, unless a park has been otherwise exempted from this requirement.

The Act applies to areas within and 1/2 mile outside of a park, and to elevations below 5,000 feet above ground level (AGL). The Act requires that an ATMP include incentives for the adoption of quiet aircraft technology and provide for the allocation of opportunities to conduct air tours when the ATMP limits the number of operations. An ATMP may prohibit commercial air tour operations (in whole or in part), and can establish conditions for the conduct of air tour operations (including routes, altitudes, time-of-day restrictions, restrictions for particular events, maximum numbers of flights, or other provisions).

In establishing an ATMP, the Act requires the agencies to publish the proposed plan for notice and comment and hold at least one public meeting. The public meeting for this ATMP will be held on Thursday, August 19, 2021 (4:30-6:00 pm PT), and comments on this ATMP will be accepted until date August 28, 2021. Air tours at the Park have been ongoing since before the Act was enacted. The Act directed the FAA to grant interim operating authority (IOA) to operators that were already conducting tours at the Park when the Act became effective until an ATMP is developed. An operator's IOA is based on the number of the operator reported it was conducting annually at the time the Act was passed. IOA does not set routes or operating conditions for an operator except to limit the number of air tours the operator is permitted to fly each year. Implementation of an ATMP will replace IOA.

Existing Conditions for Commercial Air Tours at Death Valley National Park:

Four commercial air tour operators hold Interim Operating Authority (IOA) to conduct a combined total of 37 commercial air tours over the Park each year. However, two of those operators have not reported flying commercial air tours at the Park since reporting began in 2013. The other two operators, Courtney Aviation, Inc. and Maverick Helicopters, Inc. each reported flying one commercial air tour at the Park in 2019. No other air tours have been reported at the Park by either operator since 2013. Based on the three-year average of reporting data from 2017 to 2019, the two active operators conduct an average of 0.6 total annual air tours, or 0.3 annual tours each. Rounded up, existing conditions are stated to be two air tours over the Park each year, with one air tour for each of the active operators. Courtney Aviation, Inc. conducts commercial air tours using a Gulfstream AC-690 aircraft (fixed-wing) and currently identifies five different routes at the Park, with altitudes ranging from 2,400 feet above ground level (AGL) to 5,500 feet AGL. Maverick Helicopters, Inc. conducts commercial tours using a Eurocopter EC-130-B4 and EC-130-T2 aircraft (rotorcraft) and flies two different routes at the Park, each flown at approximately 1,000 feet AGL. Commercial air tours are typically conducted between the hours of 9:00 am and 5:00 pm and may occur any day of the week.

Under existing conditions, the annual number of commercial air tours at Death Valley National Park is limited by the IOA; however, there are no restrictions on flight route, time-of-day, or altitude. There is currently no procedure to allow the Park to establish no-fly periods for special events or planned Park management. There are currently no training or education requirements for commercial air tour operators flying over the Park. The provisions and conditions in the proposed ATMP address these parameters in a manner designed to protect Park resources and visitor experience from the effects of commercial air tours and support NPS management objectives for the Park.

Consultations:

Federally listed threatened/endangered species are present/have critical habitat in the project area. The NPS and FAA have begun informal consultation with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and anticipates a determination of no effect.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA)

Pursuant to 36 CFR 800.2(a)(2), the FAA has been designated the lead Federal agency acting on behalf of the NPS and is fulfilling the collective responsibilities of both agencies under Section 106 of NHPA. Section 106 consultations are ongoing.

Contact Information

Rob Wissinger
Rob_Wissinger@nps.gov

Submit written comments to:
National Park Service
Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division
DEVA ATMP
1201 Oakridge Dr., Suite 100
Fort Collins, CO 80525