In many large parks with remote areas, aircraft are another means of transportation used similarly to access park areas that may not be easily reached by other means. In addition to Federal Aviation Administration aircraft certifications and pilot licensing requirements, for NPS operations both the aircraft and the pilot must be certified by the Department of the Interior - Office of Aviation Services (OAS). OAS is an office within the Department that was created “to raise the safety standards, increase the efficiency, and promote the economical operation of aircraft activities in the Department of the Interior.”
Aircraft Use Can Fit into Two General Categories: Point to Point and Special Use Flights
Point to Point Flights
“Point to point flights” are flights between airports or heliports with no deviations from the flight path. Due to the vast distances and roadless areas, such as in Alaska, travel in and around many parks requires aircraft. Many times, personnel are transported by NPS-owned or -contracted aircraft simply because no commercial aircraft service exists.
Special Use Flights
NPS personnel use aircraft to accomplish an immense amount of work. Special use flights may involve collecting data during aerial surveys or performing aerial radio-tracking of animals, such as the Florida panther or other endangered species. Sometimes these flights involve transportation between points that require specialized aircraft and/or pilot skills, for example, transportation of hydrologists for a water sampling mission that requires landing on water.
Often times it is advantageous to fly visiting officials and/or dignitaries over parks to provide a better overview of the park’s mission. These flights generally take off and land at airports or established helibases, but on occasion these flights fall into a special use profile.
Last updated: July 20, 2016