What type of aircraft/pilots are available in our area, and what is their rate?

There are two answers to this question. First, there are government-owned and -operated aircraft referred to as “fleet” operations. The DOI Office of Aviation Services (OAS) maintains an aviation resource list that National Park Service and other DOI employees can access. Second, there are exclusive-use aircraft, mainly helicopters, under contract to a specific park unit. These aircraft may be available at the discretion of that park’s aviation program manager. Lastly, depending upon the mission and geographic locale, DOI-approved rental aircraft may be available.

Where are the approval requirements found for various aviation missions?

The standards for approving pilots and aircraft for different aviation missions can be found in DOI Departmental Manuals and in interagency guides specific to the operational mission.

The NPS owns aircraft? Why?

Actually, the NPS operates aircraft owned by DOI OAS. These aircraft are assigned to specific park units that have a high volume of flight use and inherently governmental aviation operations.

Who pays for rescues that use aviation resources?

The National Park Service pays for search and rescues (SAR) from its operating funds. If the cost of the rescue is less than $500, the park covers that cost. However, if the costs exceeds that threshold, it is paid from the National SAR account.

What do you do with your aviation resources?

The NPS uses aircraft for natural resource missions, such as counting manatees (34%); passenger transport, especially in areas such as Alaska, where there are large roadless areas (29%); law enforcement (13%); fighting wildfires and conducting prescribed fires (12%); search and rescue (6%); and miscellaneous flights (6%).

What’s a typical day for someone involved with aviation in the National Park Service?

Depending on the job--pilot, flight crew member, biologist--the “typical day” starts long before the actual day of the flight.

1. A flight request needs to be initiated that describes the purpose of the flight.

2. An aviation specialist, usually the park’s aviation manager (PAM), reviews the request to determine the best tool for the job and ensures that the person requesting the flight has all the required training, has personal protective equipment, if required, and has drafted a projected aviation safety plan.

3. With those steps taken, a pilot and aircraft approved for the mission are scheduled. On the day of the flight, the NPS air crew must ensure that the pilot and aircraft meet the mission requirements, brief the pilot on the mission, and help execute the flight plan. The pilot in turn provides an aircraft safety briefing, loads the cargo, and off they go. Depending on the mission, the air crew and pilot might be done in an hour or it could take days to complete.

How can I become an NPS pilot?

Learn more about available NPS aviation jobs. Also see How to Become a Pilot.

How do I get a job on a helicopter crew?

The NPS currently has 12 helicopter crews, called helitack crews. Most parks hire people who have wildland firefighting experience. See USAJobs or the Student Jobs section for a position near you.

How much training does it take to work around helicopters?

There are a number of avenues to work around helicopters in the NPS. Employees hired as primary helicopter personnel are referred to as helitack crewmembers. The basic qualifications to become a helitack crewmember is a 32-hour class called “Interagency Helicopter Crewmember.” Additionally some jobs, such as law enforcement rangers, climbing rangers, and natural resource specialists, may also use helicopters to complete their tasks. Additional training for those duties would also apply.

Which NPS units have aviation programs?

View our Aviation map.

This is a complex question that is usually answered by explaining why. People are often as interested in the nonfleet or exclusive-use programs because of the diversity of goals accomplished using aviation.

Approximately fifty national park units have active aviation programs and frequently use aircraft. With the development of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones), any park could potentially have an aviation program in consultation with the regional and national offices of the NPS. Factors in determining whether a park has an aviation program are the primary needs, available funding, length of distances to cover, availability of landing sites, nature of the terrain, weather conditions, accessibility, and methods of delivery or retrieval.

Why does NPS use aircraft in wilderness areas?

Aircraft are often times the best tool that produces the least significant impact on wilderness. Agency administrators have the legal authority to determine whether it is appropriate to use aircraft in a wilderness.

In which parks can you do an air tour?

In recent years, the number of airplanes and helicopters flying over national park units has increased dramatically. Aviation activities over parks include general aviation, commercial passenger flights, park maintenance, and fire and emergency operations. Much of the increase in flights over the national parks can be attributed to the growth of the air touring industry. Read more about air tour management.

Why can’t the public fly their unmanned aircraft in national parks?

The National Park Service embraces many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic, and cultural landscapes in our care. However, we have serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft could have in parks, so we are prohibiting their use while we examine their impact on park resources. The primary goal is to ensure that we can protect park resources and ensure visitor safety while providing all visitors with a rich experience.

Is the National Park Service using drones in the parks?

The National Park Service may use unmanned aircraft for administrative purposes when appropriate and approved by the associate director for visitor and resource protection. These purposes may include search and rescue operations, fire operations, and scientific study.

Last updated: February 26, 2016