This is a story about an airport in the American West surrounded by towering mountains, an airport nestled amid staggering scenic beauty and smack in the middle of an exclusive playground for celebrities and the quietly rich. It is also an airport beset with land-use issues, zoning fights and noise squabbles.
The only survivor of an August 10 sightseeing helicopter crash at the Grand Canyon has filed suit against Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters of Grand Canyon, Ariz., its four principals and a mechanic, as well as American Eurocopter (maker of the AS 350B2 helicopter), Turbomeca Engine Corp. and Zuni LLC, a Washington-based helicopter retailer.
In August 1987 the National Parks Overflight Act (NPOA) mandated that the FAA and National Parks Service (NPS) work together to achieve “substantial restoration of natural quiet” in the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.
In 1987 the National Parks Overflights Act mandated substantial restoration of “natural quiet” at Grand Canyon National Park. Seventeen years later, the FAA and the National Park Service (NPS) agreed to resolve the overflight noise issues together.
The canyon is called Descent and the maneuver was called the “yo-yo” by Sundance Helicopter pilots and the “Thelma-and-Louise” by Papillon Airways pilots. The trip was a thrilling three-minute helicopter ride over the rim of the Grand Canyon, down Descent Canyon to land at the floor of the canyon. But that maneuver, by any name, resulted in two fatal accidents. On Aug.
The FAA has issued a final rule establishing a class of “quiet technology” aircraft to fly commercial tours over Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP). The rule requires no action by commercial air-tour operators; it simply identifies specific aircraft that qualify for the GCNP quiet-aircraft-technology designation.
Ikuko Hatano, a woman whose daughter died in the 2003 Sundance Helicopters crash in the Grand Canyon, was awarded $3.2 million in damages by a Clark County jury. During an air-tour sightseeing flight on Sept. 20, 2003, a Sundance-operated Eurocopter AS 350BA collided with a canyon wall and crashed. The accident took place during a VFR descent into Descent Canyon, about 1.5 miles east of the Grand Canyon West Airport.
Investing in a new helicopter is not a decision to be made lightly–especially for a mom-and-pop operation working in a particularly volatile market sector. Helicopter tour firms have taken a big knock since 9/11 and, as the FAA and National Park Service implement “natural quiet” in the region, the Grand Canyon area of Nevada and Arizona will be subject to new, stricter noise rules and flight restrictions.
The FAA has proposed an opinion that would prevent air tour operators from transferring national park air tour interim operating authority (IOA), effectively barring new-entrant tour operators and limiting the number of annual national park tour overflights. The public comment period ended July 28.
- Page 3