Testifying before a Senate transportation subcommittee yesterday, Helicopter Association International president James Viola expressed “grave concern” regarding the implementation of air-tour management plans developed by the FAA and the National Park Service covering flights some 23 national parks. Viola said the strategy driving the draft plan “is to cut back flights to such a degree that it is no longer economically feasible for air-tour companies to stay in business” and that it ignores the future potential of quieter electric aircraft.
Viola also charged that the plan ignored safety issue input from the National Parks Overflights Advisory Group (NPOAG), which includes industry stakeholders. “Excluding critical stakeholders like the NPOAG in this process resulted in plans for the initial parks that contain clear safety concerns,” he said.
According to Viola, “The draft plan severely curtails the economic viability of the air tour industry by limiting flight allocations. To our knowledge, there have been no economic studies undertaken to determine the impact on the industry and broader aviation community. Air tours offer a low-impact approach to experiencing the beauty of our nation’s national parks. Additionally, air tours provide those with disabilities an opportunity to interact with the parks in ways they could not otherwise. Cutting air tours without regard to economic considerations will cripple a fragile industry trying to recover from the pandemic.”