March 16, 2010

Wyden, Merkley Amendment Gives National Park Service Greater Authority to Regulate Air Tour Flyovers

Washington, D.C. – Continuing the fight to protect the solitude and unique character of America’s national parks, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley took steps today to give the National Park Service greater authority to regulate air tour flyovers over most national parks, including Oregon’s Crater Lake.
Wyden and Merkley introduced an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill that clarifies the role of the National Park Service in determining the impact of airplane and helicopter tours over the parks.  The amendment makes clear that the National Park Service has the jurisdiction over protecting park resources and values.  The Federal Aviation Administration retains authority over ensuring the safety of America’s airspace.
“Existing laws governing air tours over national parks have created unnecessary delay, expense and ambiguity,” Wyden said. “This amendment would make it clear that the National Park Service has the primary responsibility and authority to protect precious natural gems such as Oregon’s Crater Lake and eliminate the need to waste time and money on air tour management plans in cases where the impact on the parks are obvious upfront.”
“The National Park Service has the expertise to determine whether helicopter tours will damage the harmony and integrity of our National Parks,” Merkley said.  “By putting decision-making authority into the hands of the Park Service, this amendment cuts down on unnecessary expenses and interdepartmental bureaucracy.”
The amendment modifies an existing law that requires the FAA and NPS to jointly develop air tour management plans before denying requests to operate air tours over national parks.  No such management plan has ever been completed in the decade since that law took effect.  In addition to clarifying the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, the amendment provides an exception from the requirement to develop a plan when the National Park Service Director determines allowing such tours would unacceptably impact park resources or visitor experiences or when the FAA administrator determines they would create a safety problem.