(BIVN) – Congressman Ed Case (D), representing Hawaiʻi’s 1st District, brought up the hot button issue of tour helicopter noise during a hearing in Washington on Wednesday, as the House natural Resources Committee heard from the Deputy Director of the National Park Service, Dan Smith.
Smith testified before the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, of which Rep. Case is a member. The talk was about “Examining the Spending Priorities and Mission of the National Park Service.”
“Tour helicopters in Hawaiʻi,” Case began when it was his turn to question the witness, “have become quite a scourge.”
“Throughout many parts of our country, especially those with high scenic beauty qualities – and you know tourism and Hawaiʻi certainly fits that bill,” Case added, “if you dig down underneath to our helicopter situation you find very quickly that there’s virtually no effective regulation as to altitude, time of operation, flight path over highly urbanized areas.”
The Hawaiʻi State Legislature has been wrestling with the issue during the 2019 session, trying to find a way to exert some power in an issue that is mostly regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
“This is a big problem, but let me narrow it down to the national parks,” Case said. “The national parks are supposed to be where we go to kind of enjoy, get back to nature, and enjoy a pristine environment. I just find it fundamentally incompatible to be hiking out in the middle of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and have, you know, fifty tour helicopters going over my head throughout the day. And that is in fact what is happening in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, right now.”
“The latest stats that we know for an annualized basis show close to 16,500 overflights of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. A beautiful, beautiful national park in Hawaiʻi. Haleakala National Park, our other National Park, gets 5,000 overflights a year. Now that’s no way to run a national park,” Case told the deputy director.
“We passed a law in 2000, the National Parks Air Tour Management Act, which was supposed to require the NPS and FAA to set up specific air tour management plans for each of our national parks with over 50 overflights, which is many of them, to include the Grand Canyon National Park,” Case said. “And those over flights were supposed to get back to the purpose of creating a pristine environment.”
“And yet those plans, none of them, has ever been adopted,” Case said. “We’re 18 years later, 19 at this point. This has been a real, real problem for us. For me and for many others.”
“Reports are that the tour helicopter companies are now trying to weaken some of the regulations that are in effect for other national parks, such as the Grand Canyon,” Case said, asking Smith: “Can you tell me whether this budget or the National Park resources are being dedicated in any way, shape, or form – at this point – to implementing this 19-year-old law, and if so, where do we go?”
“Congressman, thank you for your question,” Smith replied. “I’m aware of the issue, I was briefed on it just within the last couple weeks. I’m aware of what happened there at Grand Canyon.”
“That is in coordination with FAA, which controls airspace,” Smith said. “There’s now a lawsuit. I daresay, that’s what’ll force action here in the near future, as we try to address this issue. It’s a legitimate claim that you make of that being an issue in these parks and there will be action, I imagine, taken in the very next few years to address that.”
“I certainly would love to work with you on that,” Case said. “We actually have a Quiet Skies Caucus in this Congress which focuses on these issues, so tell me – if there’s an actual Congressional Caucus that is talking about any particular subject, you can imagine that it’s a concern of more than one member. So many of us, I think, would have that concern with our national parks.”