Air Tours

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The Overflights Program works cooperatively with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Park Service parks, and air tour operators to manage low flying air tours in order to protect park resources and visitor use without compromising aviation safety or the nation's air traffic control system. They establish conditions for conducting air tours, including specific routes, altitudes, number of flights, type of aircraft, hours of operations, and reporting requirements.

Park Units that Require an Air Tour Management Plan or Agreement

The National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000 (NPATMA) governs commercial air tours over national parks, and tribal lands within or abutting national parks, and establishes oversight authority by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the operators wishing to conduct such tours. The Act requires that the FAA, and the National Park Service (NPS), jointly develop Air Tour Management Plan (ATMPs) for park or tribal lands within or abutting a National Park where air tour operations occur or are proposed. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 amended the Act to allow the FAA and the NPS to enter into voluntary agreements (VAs) with air tour operators as an alternative to developing ATMPs. The 2012 amendments also exempt national parks with 50 or fewer tours annually from the ATMP and VA requirements.

On February 14, 2019, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Hawaii Coalition Malama Pono filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit seeking to have the FAA and the NPS complete air tour management plans or voluntary agreements at seven specified parks. On May 1, 2020, the Court granted the petition and ordered the FAA and the NPS to file a proposed schedule within 120 days for bringing 23 parks into compliance with NPATMA within two years or to provide specific concrete reasons why it would take longer. The agencies will also be required to submit quarterly updates on their progress.

The agencies submitted the proposed plan to the Court for approval on August 31, 2020. As of the submission date, there were no ATMPs in place for the 23 parks that are required to have an ATMPs, as mandated by the NPATMA and the Court. On November 20, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit approved the agencies’ (FAA/NPS) proposed plan and schedule for completing ATMPs at the 23 parks. The court also approved the agencies’ schedule for progress updates to the Court with the first update required to be submitted on November 30, 2020, and subsequent progress updates at 90-day intervals thereafter.

The NPS and the FAA are working together to implement NPATMA. Voluntary agreements are currently in place in four parks (Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreational Area, and Rainbow Bridge National Monument). Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Rainbow Bridge National Monument are in the group of 23 parks because voluntary agreements are in place for only seven of the nine operators. Under the Act, the agencies must complete voluntary agreements with the remaining operators who have not yet signed one or do an ATMP to cover both parks.

In order to comply with agreed upon plan from the court, the agencies intend to begin work on all 23 ATMPs at the same time, and, to the maximum extent possible, consolidate the administrative processes and streamline activities under NEPA, in order to complete all of the ATMPs within two years.

Frequently Asked Questions

A commercial air tour means any flight conducted for compensation or hire in a powered aircraft where a purpose of the flight is sightseeing over a national park or within ½ mile outside of the boundary of the park. 
The National Parks Air Tour Management Act, which Congress passed in 2000, governs commercial air tours in national parks, except Grand Canyon National Park which is governed by separate legislation. It requires that the FAA, in cooperation with the NPS, develop an Air Tour Management Plans (ATMPs) or voluntary agreements for each park where air tour operations occur or are proposed.
The National Parks Air Tour Management Act defines an ATMP as a plan used to develop acceptable and effective measures to mitigate or prevent the significant adverse impacts, if any, of commercial air tour operations upon natural and cultural resources, visitor experiences, and tribal lands.
On February 14, 2019, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Hawai'i Coalition Malama Pono filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit requesting that the Court order the agencies to complete ATMPs for Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Haleakalā National Park, Lake Mead NationalRecreation Area, Muir Woods National Monument, Glacier National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park. On May 1, 2020, the Court granted the petition and ordered the agencies to submit a schedule for bringing 23 eligible parks (based on reported air tour data from 2018) into compliance with theNational Parks Air Tour Management Act within two years or to show specific, concrete reasons why doing so will take longer. Muir Woods National Monument was not included in the 23 parks subject to the court’s order because no tours had been reported over the park at the time of the lawsuit; therefore, it was exempt from the ATMP requirements. However, because there are over 5,000 Interim Operating Authority allocations for Muir Woods, which is managed jointly with Golden GateNational Recreation Area, the NPS withdrew the exemption, and an ATMP for Muir Woods would be completed in conjunction with the ATMP for Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, and Point ReyesNational Seashore. The agencies are currently working to complete ATMPs for 24 parks.
The National Parks Air Tour Management Act provides an exemption to the ATMP and voluntary agreement requirement for parks with 50 or fewer commercial air tour operations each year. Based on reports from air tour operators, 54 national parks for which operators hold Interim Operating Authority are currently exempt. The number of exempt parks may change from year to year based on data reported by air tour operators. National parks in Alaska are also exempted from the Act. Air tours over Grand Canyon National Park are subject to separate legislation.
While the National Parks Air Tour Management Act provides an exemption to the ATMP requirement for parks with 50 or fewer commercial air tour operations each year, the NPS may withdraw an exemption if the NPS determines that an ATMP or voluntary agreement is necessary to protect park resources and values or park visitor use and enjoyment. The NPS has withdrawn the exemption for Mount Rainier National Park, Death Valley National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and Muir Woods National Monument.
As an alternative to an ATMP, the NPS and the FAA may enter into voluntary agreements with all commercial air tour operators (including new entrant commercial air tour operators and operators that have interim operating authority) that have applied to conduct commercial air tour operations over a national park. As the name implies, such an agreement is voluntary and is signed by the FAA, the NPS and the air tour operators at a specific park. Like an ATMP, a voluntary agreement addresses the management issues necessary to protect park resources and visitor experience without compromising aviation safety or the air traffic control system. Voluntary agreements can establish conditions for air tours over a park, including routes and altitudes, number of flights, type of aircraft, hours of operation, and reporting requirements. Unlike ATMPs, voluntary agreements do not require compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Written comments on the draft ATMPs can be submitted on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) System at https://parkplanning.nps.gov. The PEPC sites for the respective park ATMPs will indicate the time period within which comments may be submitted. Comments can also be submitted by mail to:                     
<Park Name> ATMP, Attn: Gail Banta
Natural Sounds & Night Skies Division
National Park Service
1201 Oakridge Dr., Suite 100Fort Collins, CO 80525

The agencies will consider comments received on the draft ATMP and continue consultations with other agencies and tribal governments, as necessary. A final ATMP will be prepared in consideration of the comments received and consultations. The final ATMP will be approved by both the FAA and the NPS.
ATMPs include conditions designed to protect natural and cultural resources and visitor experience. These conditions may include the number of authorized air tours, routes, altitude, aircraft type, day or time restrictions, and restrictions for particular events. Standoff distances can also be established for special status species or cultural and tribal resources. Section 4 of the draft ATMP identifies how the ATMP conditions protect natural and cultural resources and visitor experience.
The ATMP allows restrictions for particular events, which are intended to prevent interruptions of Park events or tribal practices. The ATMP may include additional conditions as identified during consultation with Native American Tribes under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, including protections for tribal lands outside the park but within ½ mile outside of the Park.
On the effective date of an ATMP, all commercial air tours over the Park must comply with the terms and conditions of the ATMP in all respects, except that operators may continue to conduct the number of air tour operations authorized under interim operating authority as reflected in their existing operations specifications for 180 days or until FAA, in cooperation with NPS, issues new operations specifications that incorporate the operating parameters set forth in the ATMP, whichever occurs first. The new operations specifications will be issued within 90 days of the effective date of the ATMP. 
Operators are required to equip all aircraft used for air tours with flight monitoring technology, use flight monitoring technology during all air tours under this ATMP, and to report flight monitoring data as an attachment to the operator’s semi-annual reports. The NPS and the FAA are both responsible for the monitoring and oversight of the ATMP. If the NPS identifies instances of non-compliance, the NPS will report such findings to the FAA’s Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) having geographic oversight for the Park. The FSDO will investigate all reports of noncompliance. The public may also report allegations of non-compliance with this ATMP to the FSDO which may result in an investigation by the FAA.
Investigative determination of non-compliance may result in partial or total loss of authorization to conduct commercial air tours authorized by an ATMP. Any violation of operations specifications shall be treated in accordance with FAA Order 2150.3, FAA Compliance and Enforcement Program.

Stakeholder and Public Engagement

As part of the Air Tour Management Plan process, the NPS and FAA are conducting stakeholder and public meetings. Links to meeting notifications, and webinar recordings and/or meeting slide decks (where applicable) will be posted below.

  • April 28, 2021 – The NPS and FAA presented a webinar to the State Historic Preservation Offices, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and interested tribes. The briefing provided background information on the air tour management plan process and the requirements of NPATMA. View the slide deck (PDF 352KB).
  • July 29, 2021 – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published a Federal Register notice announcing the availability of draft ATMPS for Death Valley, Everglades, Mount Rainier, and Olympic national parks.
  • September 3, 2021 - The FAA, in cooperation with the National Park Service (NPS), published a federal register notice announcing the availability of draft ATMPs for Bandelier National Monument, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Arches National Park, Glacier National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, and Bryce Canyon National Park at the below link.
  • October 15, 2021 - The FAA, in cooperation with the National Park Service (NPS), published a federal register notice announcing the availability of a draft ATMP for Golden Gate National Recreation Area; Muir Woods National Monument; San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park; and Point Reyes National Seashore at the below link.

Link to Federal Register Notice

2021-22461.pdf (govinfo.gov)


Comment Period
Comments on the proposed ATMP can be submitted for a period of 30 days from October 15, 2021 through November 15, 2021. Comments for all four park units can be submitted on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment System (PEPC) website link below:

Comments can also be submitted by mail to:
< Park Name > ATMP, Attn: Gail Banta
Natural Sounds & Night Skies Division
National Park Service
1201 Oakridge Dr., Suite 100
Fort Collins, CO 80525

Meeting

The meeting will be held virtually at the following date and time:

Addresses

The meeting will be held virtually. Members of the public who wish to observe the virtual meeting can also access the livestream from either of the following FAA social media platforms on the day of the event, https://www.facebook.com/FAA, https://twitter.com/FAANews or https://www.youtube.com/FAAnews.

Map of the united states with blue dots indicating locations where there were reported air tours in 2019.
Graphic correlates numbers and areas of air tour activity in U.S. national parks in 2019.

B. Phillips / NPS

Air Tour Reports

Beginning in 2013, commercial air tour operators who conduct tours over national parks have been required to report their air tour activity to the FAA and NPS. The agencies use these data to implement requirements of the National Parks Air Tour Management Act (NPATMA), including the identification of parks where an air tour management plan or agreement is required.

The tables below display the number of reported tours in calendar year 2019 at the 78 national parks where one or more air tour operators have been granted authority to conduct tours. The National Parks Air Tour Management Act requires that park units with more than 50 annual tours establish an air tour management plan or agreement. While units with 50 or fewer tours are exempt from the requirement to establish a plan or agreement, operators at those parks are required to submit air tour reports each year. Further NPS may withdraw an exemption if NPS determines that a plan or agreement is necessary to protect park resource and values, or visitor use and enjoyment.

Based on the 2019 data, 29 parks require a plan or agreement – 27 parks with more than 50 tours and 2 parks with less than 50 tours but where NPS has withdrawn the exemption (Death Valley National Park, and Mount Rainier National Park). The remaining 49 parks listed in the table qualify for the exemption based on 2019 data because the number of tours at each park has not exceeded 50.

Park Units that Require an Air Tour Management Plan or Agreement (2019 Reporting Data)

A) -- With 50 or fewer flights in previous years, NPS withdrew the exemption for Canyon de Chelly National Monument in 2017.  
B) -- NPS withdrew exemption for this park unit in 2015, therefore, an air tour management plan or agreement is required.

Park Units that Require an Air Tour Management Plan or Agreement
National Park System UnitStateTotal Reported Air Tours

Units that Qualify for the Exemption (2019 Reporting Data)

The National Parks Air Tour Management Act exempts park units with 50 or fewer tours from the requirement to establish a plan or agreement. These park units qualify for the exemption based on 2019 data because the number of tours has not exceeded 50.

Units that Qualify for the Exemption
National Park System UnitStateTotal Reported Air Tours

The NPS and FAA jointly established the National Parks Overflights Advisory Group in 2001. This group provides continuing advice and counsel with respect to commercial air tour operations over and near national parks. They work with other stakeholders, such as air tour operators and tribes, to address a range of general aviation and environmental concerns.

Additional Information

Last updated: October 15, 2021