An Introduction to the NPS Aviation Program and Park Locations

National Park Service Aviation

A helicopter sits on the ground as a man walking in front of it during sunset

National Park Service Aviation—what exactly does this mean?


The National Park Service uses aircraft year-round and in nearly every state to support, accomplish, and promote our mission. A look at the ten-year average of aviation use in the National Park Service shows four broad program areas--natural resources, law enforcement, fire, and search and rescue--that are supported by aircraft flying about 13,000 hours annually.

To support the programs that use aviation to accomplish their missions, the National Park Service has permanent NPS pilots in fourteen parks in the Lower 48 and Alaska.The NPS owns and operates airplanes and helicopters as part of its fleet program. Other aircraft are obtained through contracts from commercial aircraft operators that are either under exclusive-use to the NPS or shared with an interagency partner.

The NPS hires two types of pilots to fly its fleet aircraft. One is the professional pilot, who primarily provides transportation of personnel and equipment at parks with very active aviation programs. The second type is the dual-function law enforcement or biologist/pilot. The law enforcement (LE) pilots use aircraft as a flying patrol vehicle. The biologist/pilot’s focus is primarily on resource monitoring missions such as wildlife or vegetation surveys.

View Large Map of National Park Service Fleet and Exclusive-Use Contract Aircraft

Not all NPS flying is accomplished by fleet or exclusive-use contracted aircraft. Aircraft for a variety of missions are procured from privately owned aviation services on what are called “On Call Contracts,” “Call When Needed Contracts,” or “Aircraft Rental Agreements”. These aviation services are used by programs such as the Inventory and Monitoring Program (I & M). In 2010, the Central Alaska I & M flew over 600 hours for missions such as electronic animal tracking and population surveys.

For quick access to additional resources for fixed-wing and rotor-wing information, visit the Lessons Learned Center: Fixed wing and Rotor wing.

Aviation's Programs, 38% natural resources, 26% law enforcement, 24% fire, 12% search & rescue.

Last updated: September 19, 2017