On an auspicious day when USGS just announced and shared photos (above) of the Kilauea volcano once again erupting, as seen within the Halemaumau crater, a visitors-welcome Zoom meeting will take place regarding the proposed drastic reduction in helicopter tours in the area. During the last eruption, your editors found it impossible to get a helicopter tour when they visited. With the planned reduction we imagine that tours will become far more costly too.
The FAA and the National Park Service (NPS) have issued a draft Air Tour Management Plan (ATMP) with significant proposed changes and a massive reduction in helicopter tours for both Haleakala National Park and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The issue is the overall environmental impact of the air tours, especially the constant noise helicopters create.
We have to say this is a good idea. We’ve hiked at Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park on Kauai many times, only to have helicopters flying over us incessantly at the end of the trail.
The FAA and NPS plan is to severely limit helicopter tours at two Hawaii locations: the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island and the Haleakalā National Park on Maui. If you have any opinion on this, you are urged to comment before the June 20 deadline. More information is below.
Helicopter Association International (the 70-year-old industry association) claims that the FAA and the NPS prepared the draft plans without considering the economic impact of their decisions in a way that was biased against helicopter tours generally. They say that the new rules “would slash air tours by 86 percent at Volcanoes National Park (down from 11,000) and by 50 percent at Haleakala, impose burdensome additional costs to operators and, in some cases, increase the noise profile over residential areas and endanger safety.”
There is still time for your input, including a Zoom meeting today.
Now is the time for input should you wish to add your thoughts before the plan is finalized. The last day is June 20. In addition, a public meeting, accessible via Zoom, will take place today, June 7, 2023, from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm, Hawaii time.
Zoom Link: https://faavideo.zoomgov.com/j/1615197156
You can also access the Plan documents and comment form. NPS said, “We encourage everyone who is interested in air tours over the park to review the materials and provide comments and participate in the public meeting.”
Plan at Volcanoes to limit helicopter tours to 1,500 annually on three routes.
The draft plan at Volcanoes would allow only helicopters with quiet technology (QT) to operate on Wednesday from 9 am to 5 pm. It would also designate a new no-fly day each Sunday. In addition, it sets to establish specific times of day for non-quiet technology flights between 10 am to 2 pm while creating longer hours when quiet technology flights can operate, from 9 am to 5 pm. “Quiet technology” refers to helicopters that produce less noise.
At Haleakala National Park, the draft plan calls for 2,400 air tours annually on a specific route within the planning area. That will eliminate about 50% of all flights. It will also establish eight no-fly days each year.
National Parks Air Tour Management Act.
The new draft plan is a result of the twenty-year-old act that was affirmed by a federal appeals court order following a community-based lawsuit filed by Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono. The group said of the dire situation and the lacking of meaningful intervention associated with the draft plan, “The FAA mandates more helicopter noise elimination for urban Long Island… than is now offered in the Hawaii Volcanoes draft ATMP.” U.S. Rep Ed Case has asked for an outright ban on helicopter tours in the National Park ATMP areas.
The federal act also requires a competitive bidding process to be implemented concurrently with the reduction in helicopter tours. Until that occurs, operators will be provided the limited slots based on the number of flights each flew before Covid.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park said:
The objective of this ATMP, which was set through the National Parks Air Tour Management Act, is to develop acceptable and effective measures to mitigate or prevent significant adverse impacts, if any, of commercial air tour operations on the park’s natural and cultural landscapes and resources, Native Hawaiian sacred sites and ceremonial areas, wilderness character, and visitor experience inside the ATMP planning area.”
At Volcanoes National Park, for example, an average of more than 11,000 helicopter flights are flown annually.
Helicopter noise levels per FAA.
“FAA implemented the ICAO Chapters 8 and 11 helicopter noise standard (called Stage 3 in the U.S.) as of May 5, 2014. The Stage 3 helicopter noise standard applies to all new helicopter types certified after the implementation date of the rule. It does not affect existing Stage 2 helicopters. Helicopter noise should lessen as operators retire older helicopters and buy new, quieter ones. Many existing helicopters in the U.S. fleet may already meet the Stage 3 noise levels, but would need to be recertified as Stage 3.” – FAA.
National Park helicopter tour curtailment plans not just in Hawaii.
At the same time, a draft air tour management plan (ATMP) for South Dakota intends to eliminate helicopter tours over the Mount Rushmore National Monument and the Badlands National Park.