Air Tour Management Plan
The National Park Service (NPS) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have initiated development of the proposed Air Tour Management Plan (ATMP) for Natural Bridges National Monument. The objective of this Plan is to develop acceptable and effective measures to mitigate or prevent the significant adverse impacts, if any, of commercial air tours on natural and cultural resources, visitor experiences and tribal lands.
As part of this process, we are inviting public feedback on the proposed ATMP for Natural Bridges National Monument. The proposed ATMP may be accessed under "Document List".
The NPS and the FAA will host a virtual public meeting regarding the plan during the 30-day comment period on Thursday, September 23th at 4:30 PM MT. A link to join the virtual public meetings may be accessed under "Meeting Notices". You are invited to attend this meeting to share your thoughts and ask NPS and FAA representatives any questions you may have.
We also invite you to submit written comments by October 3, 2021. On the left column, click on 'Open For Comment' to open the comment fields.
A summary of the proposed action, background information, and existing conditions for air tours at the Park is provided below.
Commercial air tours are currently conducted at Natural Bridges as described under the "Existing Conditions" section below. 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, September 23th at 4:30 PM MT and comments on this ATMP will be accepted until October 3, 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 Natural Bridges National Monument:
Five commercial air tour operators hold Interim Operating Authority (IOA) to conduct a combined total of 145 commercial air tours over the Park each year. However, three of those operators have not reported flying commercial air tours at the Park since reporting began in 2013. Two commercial air tour operators, Arrow West Aviation, Inc. / Slickrock Air Guides, Inc. (Redtail Aviation) and Bruce M. Adams (Southwest Safaris) currently conduct commercial air tours at Natural Bridges National Monument. Based on the three-year average of reporting data from 2017-2019, Redtail Aviation conducts an average of 53 commercial air tours at the Park each year and Southwest Safaris conducts an average of 20 commercial air tours at the Park each year. This reporting data indicates that in 2017, the busiest year within the reporting data from 2017-2019, commercial air tours occurred on 69 days. For the majority of those days, one flight occurred. Redtail Aviation conducts commercial air tours on one route within the Park, at an altitude of 2,000 feet (ft.) above ground level (AGL) using GIPPS-GA-8, CE-172-N, CE-207-207, CE-207-T207A, and Kodiak-100-100 fixed-wing aircraft. Southwest Safaris conducts commercial air tours on four routes within the Park at an altitude of 1,000 ft. AGL using a CE-182-R fixed-wing aircraft. Altitude expressed in AGL units is a measurement of the distance between the ground surface and the aircraft. Commercial air tours are typically conducted between the hours of 7:00 AM and 2:00 PM and may occur any day of the week.
Under existing conditions, the annual number of commercial air tours at Natural Bridges National Monument 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 that allow the Park to establish no-fly periods for special events or planned Park management. There are currently no training or education requirements for the 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.
Nine federally threatened/endangered species is 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 for 7 species and a determination of may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect Mexican Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) and California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus).
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.
Thank you for your interest and participation.
Submit written comments to:
National Park Service
Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division
1201 Oakridge Dr., Suite 100
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Persons requesting reasonable accommodations for the meeting, call 865-436-1207
Kaitlyn Thomas, Public Affairs Specialist
Dear Friends of Natural Bridges National Monument,