In light of the comity that almost turned a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on national parks overflights into a “lovefest” early last month, it is difficult to fathom why it has taken more than 15 years to reach agreement on rules for air tours over such noise-sensitive recreational areas.
Gary Kaufman sits in his office at the Jackson Hole (Wyo.) Airport and thinks of ways to sell all this scenery. Just a few miles away from this vest-pocket-sized airport (elevation 6,455 ft) the massive granite buttresses of the Grand Tetons rise another mile and more into the sky.
Dateline September 1927: Lindbergh is just back from Paris, and being “air-minded” is the thing. Out in the Wild West, World War I Army flier, entrepreneur and promoter J. Parker Van Zandt creates a runway across a northern Arizona meadow at a place called Red Butte, begins building a hangar and prepares to launch the first commercial air tours over the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon air-tour proponents received yet another blow August 16 when the U.S.
The subject of aircraft noise in the Grand Canyon area has been of special interest to helicopter operators for years now, but it might be taking on an even broader dimension. The definition of “substantial restoration of natural quiet” might lead to new rules for aircraft flying over the Grand Canyon National Park at and above 18,000 feet, according to a public notice from the National Park Service (NPS).
EUROCOPTER AS 350-B2, MEADVIEW, ARIZ., AUG. 10, 2001–At 2:28 p.m. MST Eurocopter helicopter N169PA, operating as Papillon 34, crashed during an uncontrolled descent about four miles east of Meadview. The helicopter was operated by Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters as an air-tour flight under FAR Part 135. The instrument-rated commercial pilot and five passengers were killed, and one remaining passenger was seriously injured.
The fatal crash on September 20 of an American Eurocopter AStar operated by Las Vegas air-tour operator Sundance Helicopters killed all six of the rotorcraft’s passengers, as well as the helicopter’s pilot, Takashi Mezaki, 45. The single-turbine helicopter crashed and burst into flames in the Grand Canyon near Meadview, Ariz., about the same vicinity where another AStar–flown by Papillon Air Tours–crashed on Aug. 10, 2001, killing six people.
Effective January 23, the FAA is codifying the provisions of Title VIII of the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000. This new law finalizes the government’s definition of just what constitutes a commercial air-tour operator (chiefly, an entity that flies sightseers over the Grand Canyon or any other of the 384 parks of the National Park Service regularly at an altitude of less than 5,000 ft agl).
Those among the 100 or so who came to a September 29 informational meeting in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Grand Canyon overflight issues, hosted by the National Park Service (NPS) and the FAA, expecting to hear of a breakthrough in a 17-year deadlock over aircraft noise left disappointed.
Last week the NTSB issued several safety recommendations stemming from the Sept. 20, 2003 crash of a Sundance Helicopters Eurocopter AS 350BA into a canyon wall in the Grand Canyon, killing the pilot and all six passengers. According to the Safety Board, the pilot disregarded safe flying procedures and misjudged the helicopter’s proximity to terrain.