Air Tour Management Plan - Olympic National Park

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Proposed Action:

The proposed action is to implement an Air Tour Management Plan (ATMP) for Olympic National Park (Park) 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 August 25, 2021, and comments on this ATMP will be accepted until date August 28, 2021. Air tours at the Park have been conducted since before the Act was enacted. The Act directs 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 was based on the number of tours 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 Olympic National Park:

One commercial air tour operator, Rite Bros Aviation, Inc., holds IOA for 76 flights over the Park each year. Based on the three-year average of reporting data from 2017 to 2019, Rite Bros Aviation, Inc. conducts an average of 64 commercial air tours at the Park each year. This reporting data also indicates that on average, commercial air tours occur on 49-52 days of the year. For the majority of those days, Rite Bros Aviation, Inc. has reported flying just one flight, though multiple flights on a single day have occasionally been reported.

Rite Bros Aviation, Inc. conducts commercial air tours on one route within the Park. The route is flown using Cessna CE-172-N, CE-172-K, CE-206-TU206F, and CE-206-U206A fixed-wing aircraft, with altitudes ranging between 2,000 feet and 3,000 feet above ground level (AGL). Altitude expressed in AGL units is a measurement of the distance between the ground surface and the aircraft. Commercial air tours are conducted between the hours of 6:45 AM and 7:00 PM.

Under existing conditions, the annual number of commercial air tours at Olympic National Park is limited by the IOA; however, there are no designated parameters on route, time-of-day, or altitude restrictions to further protect Park resources or visitor experience. Currently, no procedures are in place which 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 as well as support NPS management objectives for the Park.

Consultations:

Two federally threatened/endangered species are present 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 may effect, not likely to affect marbled murrelets and no effect on northern spotted owls.

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 NPS and is fulfilling the collective responsibilities of both federal agencies under Section 106 of NHPA. Section 106 consultations are ongoing.

Contact Information

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