Grand Canyon Overflights Comments Needed

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


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 feet above sea level were exempted from being counted in the park’s noise modeling. During the 2007 Grand Canyon National Park 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 NextGenprogram 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.

Airtour 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 percent of the time. The wording “or more” and “at least” were removed from this definition in a political move just as the National Park Service was preparing to issue final recommendations on reducing airtour noise over Grand Canyon. Under the new degraded definition, half the park can be loud all of the day, and the other half noisy up to 25 percent of the day.

The 2012 special interest legislation, known as MAP-21, required the FAA and Grand Canyon National Park to offer the airtour industry “incentives” to convert to “quiet” technology aircraft.

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

You may want to consider in your comments these points:

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 airtour 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 airtours 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 airtour 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 National Park since 2005, and each helicopter airtour flight is supposed to give Grand Canyon National Park $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 airtour 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:

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

Mail: Send comments to
Docket Operations, M-30;
U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Room
W12-140, West Building Ground Floor
Washington, DC 20590-0001

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