Grand Canyon Overflights Comments Needed • December 1, 2014

Grand Canyon National Park

Officials at Grand Canyon National Park are taking public comments on the
GCNP Quiet Aircraft Technology Incentive: Seasonal Relief from Allocations in the Dragon and Zuni Point Corridors.

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The concept of the need to preserve natural quiet from impairment at the Grand Canyon was recognized as early as 1975, when the Grand Canyon Enlargement Act noted overflights were causing a significant adverse effect on the natural quiet and experience of the park.

The National Park Service made headway in curbing aircraft noise over the park with the passage of the National Parks Overflights Act in 1987. Sadly, there has been considerable slippage since that time, with any number of incentives to various types of overflights. This has resulted in the continued degradation of natural quiet in the Grand Canyon.

This degradation includes over 100,000 new flights annually in western Grand Canyon, where a hardship exclusion allows tens of thousands of helicopter flights to operate over the Quartermaster area of Grand Canyon. These flights operate from dawn to dark year-round and make a mockery of the very concept of natural quiet.

Additional degradation occurred when all aircraft over 18,000′ above sea level were exempted from being counted in the park’s noise modeling. During the 2007 GCNP Overflights Working Group meetings, the Federal Aviation Administration assured meeting participants that the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) would eliminate many commercial aviation flights from the skies over Grand Canyon. In a November, 2014, hearing in Washington, DC, three members of Congress expressed serious concern that the NextGen program was stalled, broken, and not going to materialize any time soon. Implementation was to occur by 2020 and now appears as though it may never be implemented.

Air tour transportation flights, such as the daily flights that occur at dawn and fly along the sixty-mile rim of Marble Canyon from the Tusayan Airport to Page, AZ, no longer count in the overflights noise models at all.

In 2012, the very definition of the Substantial Restoration of Natural Quiet was re-written by a congressional special interest rider inserted into a must pass spending bill. Substantial Restoration had previously been defined as: 50 percent or more of the park would be naturally quiet at least 75% of the time. The wording ‘or more’ and ‘at least’ was removed from this definition in a political move just as the NPS was preparing to issue final recommendations on reducing air tour noise over Grand Canyon. Under the new degraded definition, 50% the park can be loud all of the day, and the other half noisy up to 25% of the day. The 2012 special interest legislation, known as MAP-21, required the FAA and GCNP to offer the air tour industry incentives to convert to quiet technology aircraft.

This comment period is a part of this special interest legislation.

You may want to consider these points in your comments:GC helicopter

1) MAP-21 did not define how many incentives were required. Two incentives have already been established. They are decreasing the fees paid to the National Park by the air tour industry to operate over the park, and to allow the use of previously unused allocations.

Tell the park you think the two incentives above are more than enough encouragement, especially when all Americans nationwide are being asked to pay more to enter their National Parks.

2) This new round of incentives for quiet technology also allows year-round noise levels to reach 58 decibels in the Dragon and Zuni corridors, equivalent to a steady sound level of light traffic. This will be done by allowing unlimited quiet technology flights in the winter season, and up to 3,700 new air tours in the Dragon and Zuni corridors in the summer.

This would be accommodated by moving the winter allocation of flights to the summer, so long as the annual noise level under the Zuni and Dragon corridors does not exceed light traffic annually. Even though they are called quiet technology, they are still very loud flights. In fact, under the FAA definition of quiet technology, the aircraft can be louder than current aircraft if they have more seats. At issue here is how loud is too loud.

Tell the park you oppose this additional incentive in its entirety, and suggest this year round noise level in the Dragon and Zuni corridors should not reach 40 decibels, the lowest limit of urban ambient sound. Let the park know you do not think an incentive should include increased summer flights of loud aircraft.

3) Given that the air tour industry is not using its annual allocation 44,000 flights in the Dragon-Zuni corridor, tell the park you suggest the maximum allowed flights decrease to the 2012 level of 41,000 actual flights used.

4) Given that both a one-hour flight and a half-hour flight are counted the same in the allocations as one flight, tell the park you encourage the National Park Service to truly give credit for quiet technology by phasing out the one-hour long loop flights, since each of these long loop flights doubles the destruction of natural quiet in the park.

5) There hasn’t been any updated noise modeling in Grand Canyon NP since 2005, and each helicopter air tour flight is supposed to give GCNP $20.

Tell the park the $20 received from each flight must be used to fund sound level data gathering from within the Park. Demand that a funding mechanism safe from re-allocation to other purposes must be established to guarantee the immediate start of adequate and precise noise modeling, including percent-time-audible, for each successive year, by month, and/or for peak day, for the next 13 years, for the Dragon and Zuni corridors, and all areas of the park.

6) The air tour operators are all switching to quiet technology aircraft, with or without incentives. Tell the park that the tour operators need no incentives to operate over Grand Canyon. To do so is a privilege and if they need incentives, they should simply fly someplace else instead of over the Grand Canyon.

Finally, include in your comments how you recreate in Grand Canyon
and what the preservation of Natural Quiet means to you!

Comments are due by December 10, 2014.
Send comments identified by docket number FAA-2014-0782 using any of the following methods:

Email • Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to and follow the online instructions for sending your comments electronically.

Mail • Send comments to:
Docket Operations, M-30;
US Department of Transportation (DOT)
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Room W12-140, W Building Ground Flr
Washington, DC 20590-0001

Fax • Fax comments to Docket Operations: 202-493-2251.

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A sample letter courtesy of A.J. Pastula

As an avid backpacker and rafter, I have personally experienced the sounds of air traffic in the Grand Canyon. The constant helicopters from Diamond Creek down in the Quartermaster area are ridiculous. At one point on a river trip earlier this year, there were eight helicopters in sight and the sound level was definitely not anything near a wilderness experience. It is so unpleasant that we try to row to the takeout at Pearce Ferry as quickly as possible. I know folks that do overnight floats so they can get clear of the noise level as soon as possible. This could be a safety issue if folks don’t recognize the terrain and end up going over Pearce Ferry rapid.

Deep in the canyon during raft trips, even the high level aircraft disrupt the serene and peaceful wilderness experience that most people are looking for when they are traveling into the backcountry; so I strongly support more restrictions on air travel over the Grand Canyon – not less and certainly not more incentives. Sound levels should be evaluated and restricted, not only over the Dragon and Zuni point corridors, but overall. Hopefully, sound levels can be reviewed as a whole and the 18,000′ exemption be removed, along with restoring the original definition of Substantial Restoration of Natural Quiet, which was changed in 2012 on a special interest rider attached to a spending bill. This is another problem in itself that needs to be addressed.

The concept of the need to preserve natural quiet from impairment at the Grand Canyon was recognized as early as 1975, when the Grand Canyon Enlargement Act noted overflights were causing a “significant adverse effect on the natural quiet and experience of the park”.

I strongly oppose allowing unlimited quiet-technology flights in the winter season, as there are many people (myself included), who raft the river in the winter months to have a serene wilderness experience (when only rowing is allowed on the river, all motor use is prohibited). There should be protections in place to preserve the tranquility of the wilderness.

Thank you for your time and consideration.