More Flights Allowed Over Grand Canyon

The Federal Aviation Administration announced that more air tour operators will be able to fly over Grand Canyon National Park as long as they're using quiet technology.
Grand Canyon Helicopter Flights. Photo by Gary Bembridge Flickr

Grand Canyon Helicopter Flights. Photo by Gary Bembridge Flickr

Recently the Federal Aviation Administration announced that more air tour operators will be able to fly over Grand Canyon National Park as long as they're using quiet technology. The government organization plans to release 1,721 additional flight allocations, as long as the companies' active fleets do not increase overall noise levels in the park.

Among those additional flights will be nearly 50 more flights allowed over the Dragon and Zuni Point corridors, trips that show visitors the widest and deepest sections of the canyon and its eastern edge.

History of Flights Over the Grand Canyon

The first recorded air tour over the Grand Canyon occurred in February 1919, six months before the massive canyon was declared a national park. Ever since then, climbing into an aircraft, whether a plane or a helicopter, has been a popular way to see the Grand Canyon in all of its expansive glory.

Unfortunately, air tours are not without consequence. Although it may seem a small side effect, these flying people movers add to the overall transportation-related noise in the park, a level that has been closely monitored since the Federal Aviation Administration passed the National Park Overflights Act in 1987.

In 2012 a new and extensive transportation bill was passed requiring that the FAA and National Park Service incentivize air tour operators who use quiet air technology while flying over the canyon. Using a formula based on noise certification levels and the number of seats, the FAA determines whether or not an aircraft is "quiet." This bill came to fruition in the form of a fee reduction from $25 down to $20 per flight for those using quieter aircraft over the canyon. That could save the Grand Canyon's air tourism industry up to $250,000 annually.

Although this year's allocation of additional flights will bring the total number of allowed Grand Canyon air tours to 94,000 per year (although in years past slightly less than half of those have gone unused), in theory transportation noise levels in the park will not increase.

Views on the Opening Up of Restrictions

Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga doesn't expect park visitors to hear a difference in noise levels.

"An extra 49, when you're talking about one every two minutes, I don't think anybody will actually physically notice them," he told "You know there is more noise because there are 49 (more) flights, but no one is going to notice it on the ground, and that's why we're comfortable with it."

Jim McCarthy of the Sierra Club however thinks that visitors will be negatively affected, especially those backpackers seeking silence and solitude in the backcountry. He points out that not only will their peace be disturbed by additional aircraft, but more flights means the possibility of more aircraft crashes.

"It's incrementally in the wrong direction," he said.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter, shared her colleague's disdain for the idea.

"The so-called quiet technology is not quiet. It's less noisy, but it's not quiet."" she told the Verde News. "It's a ridiculous way to treat a national park, where people come to hear the natural sounds, to hear the water flow, ... not to have it drowned out by aircraft."


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