June 4, 2012

NBAA and other general aviation groups have joined the fight against proposed legislation that would give the National Park Service (NPS) unprecedented authority to regulate air tour operators flying over national parks and tribal lands.

That authority now rests with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

On May 30, GA Caucus co-chairs, Rep. Sam Graves (R-6-MO) and Rep. John Barrow (D-12-GA), sent a letter to Senate/House conferees Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works; and Rep. John Mica (R-7-FL), chairman of the Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, opposing the measure.

The letter, signed by an additional 16 members of Congress, claims that Sec. 100301 of S.1813, which was proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and is included the Highway Reauthorization bill, could lead to a complete ban of air tour operations in areas under NPS jurisdiction.

“Section 100301 is nothing more than a biased judgment on how best to experience our national parks,” the co-chairs said in their letter. “Unfortunately, it will effectively eliminate the air tour industry. The end result will be lost jobs for pilots, drivers, tour guides, support staff and local businesses and adversely impact the helicopter manufacturing, maintenance and parts industries.”

Download the letter from House members opposing the expansion of the NPS to regulate air tours (625KB, PDF)

The letter cites legislation that Congress enacted in 2000, following a fatal accident over the Grand Canyon National Park in 1986, which has allowed for the existence of a regulated air tour industry. Known as the Air Tour Management Act of 2000, and drafted with GA industry input, the act created a structure for allowing the NPS and the FAA to work together on park over-flight issues. It also required the FAA administrator and the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior to approve an air traffic management document for each national park and work collaboratively through the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process.

The GA Caucus co-chairs said the proposed measure would rewrite the Air Tour Management Act.

“While the title of Section 100301 merely claims to make ‘technical corrections’ to the oversight of the air tour industry, it is nothing short of a full-scale, 26-page rewrite of existing law,” the co-chairs wrote. “We strongly urge you to reject this provision.”

Steve Brown, NBAA Chief Operating Officer, said the proposed legislation, if passed, would set an adverse precedent.

“Clearly, under the law, the FAA is given primary responsibility for assessing safety in the national airspace, as well as designing routes and certifying aircraft, such as the ones being discussed in the park legislation,” he said. “The NPS doesn’t have an embedded expertise in matters of airspace and aviation safety. Their expertise has to do with the parks, layout and operation of the national parks.”

In addition to working with the GA Caucus on drafting the letter, Brown said NBAA is talking to members of Congress to educate them about the legislation and enlist their support in opposing the measure. Brown urged NBAA Members to contact their local representatives, especially when they return to their states and Congressional districts during the summer recess, and ask them to oppose passage of the section.