The Senate likely will take up a pair of amendments to the $52 billion federal highway bill (S.1813) beginning tomorrow that, if passed, would negatively affect the helicopter taxi and tour business nationwide. Attempts at this sort of mischief-making were stripped from the recently enacted FAA reauthorization bill, so now, U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are attempting to “Christmas tree” them onto the highway legislation.
Schumer’s attempts to mandate potentially dangerous offshore helicopter routing over Long Island has been ongoing for several years now. But his latest gambit also incorporates language from legislation previously offered by California congressmen and senators to regulate civil helicopter traffic over the Los Angeles basin more stringently.
Alexander’s amendment would give the director of the National Park Service (NPS) broad authority to regulate helicopter and fixed-wing tour flights over land under its administration, a move that is widely seen as being debilitating to the air-tour business nationwide. Specifically, Alexander’s amendment would give the NPS director the authority to establish air-tour management plans and issue air-tour permits. Alexander’s local concern appears to be about helicopter tours over the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in his home state.
Given the sorry state of many of our national parks at present, the NPS appears to have enough on its plate without trying to regulate airspace and airspace usage, which is the purview of another federal agency that actually knows something about the issue—it’s called the FAA. The FAA has well established and effective practices in place for this sort of thing and the process works well in large part because it gives all the stakeholders the opportunity for input and balances the needs of airspace users with public safety. What Schumer and Alexander are proposing is to disregard the needs of airspace users and ignore their positive economic impact to score political points with small slices of their constituencies. This is more than bad public policy. It’s unsafe, and it needs to stop now.