Today’s Solutions: April 18, 2024

The National Park Service (NPS) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a ban on commercial air tours over Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, intending to preserve the park’s serene natural landscape and cultural heritage. This decision is part of a larger effort to reduce noise pollution and the environmental impact of aviation activity within national parks.

Background and decisions

Commercial flying tours are prohibited under the National Parks Flying Tour Management Act of 2000, which was enacted to address the negative effects of aircraft noise on wildlife and tourist experiences. However, a lack of enforcement prompted the formation of the Overflights Program in 2020, which aims to set restrictions for commercial aviation excursions over national parks. The recent completion of the air tour management plan for Bandelier National Monument marks a significant step forward in implementing these laws.

Environmental impact

Commercial flying tours not only increase greenhouse gas emissions but also violate the natural quiet of national parks. “Some of the very areas where the potential for solitude and natural quiet is greatest are places where aircraft noise may be most intrusive,” the Environmental Protection Agency said. By prohibiting such trips, the NPS hopes to protect the park’s resources, notably Tribal holy places and ceremonial locations, from unwanted disturbance.

Stakeholder engagement

The decision to prohibit commercial flying tours follows considerable consultation with numerous groups. Park Superintendent Patrick Suddath noted that “prohibiting commercial air tours protects the cultural and spiritual significance of these lands to Tribes, and ensures the park experience desired by visitors.” This step demonstrates the National Park Service’s dedication to protecting Bandelier National Monument’s rich cultural legacy and natural beauty.

Enforcement and transition

While the ban on commercial aviation tours will take effect 180 days after the proposal is signed, existing operators will be able to continue their tours until their Interim Operating Authority expires. However, once their Operation Specifications are changed, these tours will be fully restricted inside the boundaries specified in the air tour management plan. This stepwise strategy provides a smooth transition while maintaining the integrity of the ban.

National scope

Bandelier National Monument joins a growing list of parks with enforced air tour management plans, including Haleakalā, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes, Badlands, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The action underscores a broader commitment to preserve the natural and cultural assets of America’s national parks for future generations.

The prohibition on commercial aviation tours over Bandelier National Monument is a significant step forward in our continued efforts to protect the peace and cultural significance of our country’s parks. By emphasizing environmental preservation and stakeholder interaction, the NPS establishes a national standard for sustainable management methods.

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