During a day in June, a pilot skims the sky approaching Kahiltna Pass, allowing sightseers stunning views of glaciers, ice ridges, and Denali. The pilot circles near the pass, and the plane engines churn with the climb to a safe crossing altitude. Below the plane, climbers at 11,000-foot Camp—acclimatizing before their push to the summit—are expecting a wilderness mountaineering experience in Denali National Park and Preserve. The experience is mostly characterized by silence, broken by the clip of carabiners and the trudge of boots.
This conflict is a park-management challenge. The Denali National Park and Preserve Aircraft Overflights Advisory Council (Council) was established in 2007 to address such a situation. The group is charged with advising the National Park Service (NPS) on ways to (1) mitigate (reduce) sound impacts from aircraft flights over the park, (2) develop voluntary measures for assuring the safety of passengers, pilots, and mountaineers, and (3) achieve desired resource conditions at Denali as outlined in the Backcountry Management Plan (2006).
The Denali National Park Aircraft Overflights Advisory Council was chartered in 2007 to make recommendations to the Superintendent, through the Secretary of the Interior, on mitigation efforts that should be made to reduce the impacts from aircraft overflights in Denali National Park and Preserve.
The group is developing voluntary measures for assuring the safety of passengers, pilots, and mountaineers and for achieving desired future resource conditions at Denali that were outlined in the 2006 Backcountry Management Plan.
Council membership (see below) contains broad representation of interested stakeholders and has a balance of local, state, and national interests.
How Does the Council Approach Issues?
The Council provides a forum for ongoing dialogue among stakeholders. Through regular interaction, members become more familiar with the issues and learn to recognize the validity of differing views. The Council’s focus on voluntary measures (rather than regulatory outcomes) provides more latitude to explore a variety of constructive solutions. The mutual respect earned among Council members influences outcomes in ways that are difficult to document, but nonetheless have reduced real and perceived user conflicts.
How Can the Public Participate?
The full Council meets formally several times a year, with public comment opportunities at each meeting. In addition, as needed, the Council assigns interested members and affected stakeholders to discussion or “roll up your sleeves” working groups. The Council ’s formal recommendations typically follow a vetting process through the informal working groups. For example, the “Aviation Working Group” has been proactive in developing voluntary “best practices” to minimize noise impacts. Another group is discussing how to make these best practices more useful and readily available to non-local pilots. By moving forward in small increments, with ample time for testing and informal vetting, the Council has earned a measure of trust among members and public participants, facilitating increasingly collaborative discussions and solutions.
Recommendations of Best Practices
The Denali Overflights Council has identified several sound-sensitive areas in the park where visitors engaged in ground activities (e.g., hiking, camping, climbing) conflict with visitors experiencing the park via air tours. To minimize these situations, the Council recommends several best practices to adjust flight patterns when safety permits.
For the example, at Kahiltna Pass, where sounds from flightseeing aircraft may impact mountain climbers, the best practice for pilots planning to fly through the pass during the climbing season (late April to early July) is to (1) climb to a safe crossing altitude well before arriving at the Pass, and (2) avoid circling in the pass. This best practice minimizes the sound impact for climbers in the vicinity of the 11,000-foot camp. In all best practice recommendations, the goal is to separate aircraft from ground-based park visitors to reduce sound impacts to them.
The Council’s recommendations are subject to refinement and revision as operational experience is gained and as new data are collected. Recommendations may be added for other areas as the Council’s work progresses. Pilots are encouraged to stay informed of new or revised recommendations.
In addition to recommending best practices, the Council provides input to the NPS regarding the park’s efforts to: acquire soundscape data; evaluate the effectiveness of the Council’s overflight recommendations; educate the public about the sources of aircraft sound over the park (e.g., tourism, administrative, search and rescue, general aviation); and consider improved ways to meet desired conditions at Denali.
The official designation of the Federal advisory committee is the Denali National Park and Preserve Aircraft Overflights Advisory Council (Council).
The purpose of the Council is to advise the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary), through the Director of the National Park Service, on matters relating to mitigation of impacts from aircraft overflights at Denali National Park and Preserve. The Council will develop voluntary measures for assuring the safety of passengers, pilots, and mountaineers and for achieving desired future resource conditions at Denali National Park and Preserve.
C. DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
The duties of the Council are solely advisory and are as stated in paragraph B above.
The Council will not exceed 12 members and will be appointed by the Secretary to represent a range of interests concerned with aircraft overflight management in the Park and Preserve.
The Council will be appointed as follows:
(a) One member to represent the concession-authorized air taxi and scenic air tour operators in Denali National Park and Preserve; (b) One member to represent scenic air tour operators not operating under a National Park Service concession; (c) One member to represent commercial aviation other than air taxi/scenic air tour operators; (d) One member to represent the statewide or national environmental community; (e) One member to represent the local environmental community (area between Willow and Healy); (f) One member to represent local landowners; (g) One member to represent the State of Alaska; (h) One member to represent the Federal Aviation Administration; (i) One member to represent the mountaineering and mountain climbing community; (j) One member to represent backcountry users of Denali National Park and Preserve other than climbing interests; (k) One member to represent the general aviation users of park airspace; and (l) One member to represent the U.S. Air Force.
Members will be appointed for 4-year terms. Upon establishment of the Council, however, approximately half of the members will be appointed to 2-year terms, determined by a random drawing. Any vacancy on the Council will be filled in the same manner in which the original appointment was made.
If any member fails to attend two successive meetings of the Council, the Designated Federal Officer (DFO) may recommend the removal of the member by the Secretary and a replacement named. Members may be appointed for consecutive terms.
Members of the Council serve without compensation. However, while away from their homes or regular places of business, members engaged in Council business approved by the DFO will be allowed travel expenses. including per diem in lieu of subsistence, in the same manner as persons employed intermittently in Government service under section 5703 of title 5 of the United States Code.
E. ETHICS RESPONSIBILITIES OF MEMBERS
A member may not participate in matters that will directly affect, or appear to affect, the financial interests of the member or the member's family or business. Compensation from employment does not constitute a financial interest of the member so long as the matter before the Council will not have a special or distinct effect on the member or the member's employer, other than as part of a class.
CHARTER. The Council is subject to the provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), 5 U.S.C. Appendix. The Council may take no action unless the charter filing requirements of Sections 9(c) and 14(b) of FACA have been complied with. The Council is subject to renewal every biennial anniversary of its establishment date, which is the date the first charter is filed.
SUPPORT AND COSTS. Support for the Council is provided by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. The estimated annual operating cost of the Council is $60,000, which includes the cost of one-fourth work-year of staff support.
DESIGNATED FEDERAL OFFICER. The Council reports to the Director of the National Park Service through the Superintendent of Denali National Park and Preserve in Denali National Park, Alaska. The Superintendent or a Federal employee designated by the Superintendent serves as the DFO for purposes of Section 10 of FACA to oversee the management of the Council.
CHAIRPERSON. The Council will select from among its members one individual to serve as chairperson for a term to be determined by the Council.
MEETINGS. The Council will meet approximately two to four times a year upon the call of, or with the advance approval of, the DFO. All meetings of the Council are subject to the provisions of FACA. All meetings are open to the public.
SUBCOMMITTEES. In carrying out its duties, the Council, in consultation with the DFO, may form subcommittees to compile and conduct research for consideration by the full Council. Membership on subcommittees and meetings of subcommittees are subject to approval by the DFO.
G. DURATION AND DATE OF TERMINATION
It is anticipated that the Council will require approximately 6 years from its establishment to complete its work. All appointments will terminate with the Council.
The Denali National Park and Preserve Aircraft Overflights Advisory Council is established by authority of the Secretary of the Interior under Section 3 of Public Law 91-383 (16 U.S.C. la-2(c}).
2012 Denali Air Tour Operators Best Practices to Minimize Sound Impacts
The Denali Overflights Council has identified sound sensitive areas in Denali National Park, where competing uses among park visitors engaging in ground activities (hiking, camping, climbing, etc.) are in conflict with visitors who are experiencing the park via air tours.
To minimize these conflicts, a working group comprised of council members and air tour operators has developed a set of “best practices” to adjust flight patterns, when safety permits, to reduce the sound impact in these key areas. Where practical, the goal is to separate aircraft from park visitors on the ground.
Aviation safety is identified as the top priority when conducting flight operations by air tour operators. While the voluntary procedures described below are recommended, they are subject to the influence of weather, and local operator and transient traffic operations which may require that aircraft and helicopters deviate from these procedures to preserve safety for pilots and passenger safety. The Denali Air Tour Operators use the Best Practices defined in this document to minimize noise conflicts, and in addition participate in annual operator meetings to mitigate potential conflicts among individual operators who participate in this program.
Area 1: Triple Lakes Departures and Arrivals
Nature of surface activity: The Triple Lakes trail is heavily used by day hikers during the summer months between the Parks Highway and Triple Lakes.
Air Tour Operator Procedure: Operators departing from the Denali (Private) Airstrip to the north will extend their climb beyond the Triple Lakes when practical before turning west. Aircraft arriving from the west will plan their approach to use minimum power settings to reduce sound impacts on this area. Helicopters departing from the ERA Heliport proceed upriver in a maximum allowed performance climb to Crisscross, before turning west to cross the Triple Lakes Trail.
Area 2: Superseded. See Area 6 North Side/Park Road Region
Area 3: Denali Summit Flights
Nature of surface activity: During climbing season (late April to early July) climbers at the high camps, 14,000 and 17,000 foot camps and enroute to the summit are subject to aircraft sound from summit flights.
Air Tour Operator Procedure: Operators conducting summit flights are requested to avoid the 17,000 and the 14,000 foot camps and make approaches east of the south summit and north of the north summit. The goal is to minimize sound impact on the high camps and along the summit route by not flying close to these areas.
Area 4: Kahiltna Pass Crossings
Nature of surface activity: During climbing season (late April to early July) climbers traveling up the Kahiltna Glacier and located at the 11,000 foot camp are subject to sound from aircraft crossing Kahiltna Pass.
Air Tour Operator Procedure: Operators planning to fly through Kahiltna Pass are asked climb to a safe crossing altitude well before arriving at the pass and avoid orbiting at climb power in or south of the pass to minimize sound impact for climbers.
Area 5: Ruth Gorge
Nature of surface activity: During the climbing season (late April to mid-June) climbers may be utilizing the Ruth Gorge. The gorge can channel aircraft sound, which may disturb climbers who are camping, traveling and climbing in this area.
Air Tour Operator Procedure: Operators who are conducting scenic flight tours and Ruth Mountain House glacier landings can minimize overflights of this area when weather allows by using Pittock Pass or Buckskin Gap when accessing the Ruth Amphitheater from the south. Flight tours transitioning across the gorge are encouraged to fly north or south of the Ruth Gorge, or above 10,000’, when able.
When leaving the Ruth Amphitheater via the Ruth Gorge, operators are requested to fly directly through the gorge at low RPM settings, and to fly on the right side to minimize sound impacts at the camping areas in the middle of the gorge and to avoid possible conflicting traffic.
Area 6: North Side/Park Road Region
Nature of surface activity: During the summer visitor season (June 1 to Sept. 15), the bulk of Denali hikers and backpackers utilize the area from north of the park road, south to near the crest of the Alaska Range. While the largest concentration of surface activity is in the corridor along the park road, the zone along the north side of the Alaska Range crest has been identified as the area where backpackers are most sensitive to aircraft operations (see map below).
All the lands inside the boundaries of this region are designated Wilderness and have been assigned the highest level of soundscape protection by the Denali Backcountry Plan.
Air Tour Operator Procedure: Operator’s transiting this area are asked to maintain an altitude of 8,000 feet MSL, and to use minimum RPM settings, if not in a descending flight pattern, to reduce sound impacts. When weather and safety considerations allow, avoid the zone immediately north of the spine of the Alaska Range (see map below). In the remainder of the zone, spread flights out to minimize sound impacts in any one area. Campgrounds outside the zone (see symbols on map) also represent concentrations of people, and should be avoided when possible.
These procedures are designed to reduce sound impact in these key areas of Denali National Park. They are subject to refinement and revision as operational experience is gained.
Last updated: January 31, 2018
PO Box 9
A ranger is available 9 am to 4 pm daily (except on major holidays). If you reach the voicemail, please leave a message and we'll call you back as soon as we finish with the previous caller.