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More Air Tour Limits Proposed to Cut Canyon Noise

August 6, 2009

PHOENIX - The National Park Service is proposing several ways to further reduce noise over the Grand Canyon generated by air-tour flights. Proposals include allowing fewer tourist flights early and late in the day and increasing minimum flying altitudes. Another proposal outlines seasonal closings of tour routes over certain parts of the canyon - an idea Rob Smith, southwest regional director of the Sierra Club, says brings some balance.

"There will still be an opportunity for people, as they do now, to fly in from Las Vegas, to take day trips from the South Rim. This moves them around, trying to separate air-tour noise from people. It doesn't close off the opportunity."

At least one major air-tour operator calls the proposed new restrictions "not acceptable" because it perceives them as damaging to business.

High fuel prices and the recession have reduced the number of Grand Canyon tourist flights to about half the allowable number. But Smith says plenty of planes are still in the air.

"There are between 40,000 and 60,000 air-tour flights a year, as many as 350 a day. That is about one every two minutes. And so, it's still pretty noisy where they fly."

Smith agrees air-tour operators have their place at the canyon, but wants the number of flights to be controlled - just as the Park Service limits the number of hotel rooms, hikers and river trips so that any one use does not erode the experience of everyone else.

"So many people visit the Grand Canyon - millions - that everyone can't do everything they want to all time. But if you manage it so that there's an experience in different parts of the canyon for different users, everyone can get what they want there."

According to federal law, at least half of the canyon must be free from aircraft noise for at least 75 percent of the day.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ