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"Court Defers Grand Canyon Noise Rules"



Tuesday, November 7, 2000

Court Defers Grand Canyon Noise Rules
by Paul Richfield
Business & Commercial Aviation


Determined resistance from air-tour operators led a federal appeals court to
postpone implementation of new Grand Canyon air-tour routes the FAA has had
in the works for several years.

An FAA team was dispatched to Arizona last week to review the new routes,
which aim to lessen the noise impact of commercial sightseeing operations,
mainly in the canyonís busy eastern gorge. Due to go in effect on Dec. 1,
the changes were deferred until the end of that month.

The United States Air Tour Association (USATA) triggered this latest round
of canyon controversy by filing papers in the U.S. District Court of Appeals
for the District of Columbia alleging the changes "pose a significant and
substantial risk of death and/or serious bodily injury to Air Tour Providers
í crews and customers."

Operators say FAA-mandated training flights on the new routes have revealed
conflict with the existing air-tour framework and place commercial aircraft
in conflict with general aviation aircraft bisecting canyon airspace, which
is known as Special Flight Rules Area (SFAR) 50-2.

"This has become an extremely serious safety issue," says USATA President
Steve Bassett. "Fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters are being routed across
each otherís flight paths with little or no horizontal or vertical
separation."

The FAA plans to expand SFAR 50-2 to cover nearly all of the 1.1
million-acre Grand Canyon National Park, and areas off limits to all
aircraft
("Flight-Free Zones") will be increased from 45% to 75% of the Parkís total
land area.

Air-tour flights will be limited to 90,000 annually under the new rules, a
figure based on the number of air tours conducted during the moribund
1997-98 tour season. Around 600,000 people bought air tours over that
period, a third less than in a "good year," operators say.

Whatever form the final design for SFAR 50-2 takes, the debate over "the
ditch" could have wider-reaching implications. Environmentalists, the
government and air-tour operators also are grappling over national park
airspace in Hawaii, Montana and other states.

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