(BIVN) – U.S. Representative Kai Kahele (D, Hawaiʻi) questioned a federal official on the issue of aviation noise during a House committee hearing held on Thursday.
The U.S House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Aviation Subcommittee hearing, entitled Aviation Noise: Measuring Progress in Addressing Community Concerns, included testimony from Kevin Welsh, the executive director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Environment and Energy.
Kahele and Welsh both participated in the hearing virtually. When it was Kahele’s opportunity to speak, he noted the issue is of critical importance to his constituents in Hawaiʻi. The Congressman said:
“Mr. Chairman, the number one issue in Hawaiʻi is helicopter / commercial air tour activities, and the associated noise throughout the state, which has been a topic of legislative and regulatory interest at both the federal and state level for over 30 years.
“On the island of Hawaiʻi, in 2017, the Hawaiʻi Volcano’s National Park experienced 16,520 commercial air tours a year, second only in the nation to the Statue of Liberty. That’s an average of 46 air tours every single day, 365 days a year, over one of the nation’s most treasured national parks. And I really believe that Americans that go to our beloved national park should be able to experience them, in it’s quiet and pristine condition. However, Air Tour Management Plans – first passed by Congress in 2000 – 22 years later have still not been implemented at Haleakala National Park or Hawaiʻi Volcano’s National Park.
“According to the FAA, there are a total of 49 air tour operators conducting tours in the State of Hawaiʻi, and at the core of regulation in Hawaiʻi is the Hawaii Air Tour Common Procedures Manual, and the Air Tour Management Plans over our national parks.
“My question is for Mr. Welsh the last time the Hawaii Air Tour Common Procedures Manual was published was in August of 2008. It has live beyond its useful life and needs to be updated by the local Flight Standards District Office. There have been significant changes to population density and land use since then, and I believe that the FAA and our local FSDO need to implement new policies and procedures for rotary wing and commercial air tours, because the current situation in Hawaiʻi is unsustainable.
“So far there has been very limited community input and lack of urgency in updating this manual. So my question is… can I get an update from you on both the Air Tour Management Plan for Hawaiʻi Volcano’s National Park and Haleakala? And do you have an update on the Hawaiʻi Common Air Tour Procedures Manual? And moving forward do I have your commitment in working together with community organizations and neighborhood boards here in Hawaiʻi, through the local Flight Standard District Office, to update new policies and procedures, and ensure that they are not written exclusively by the local FSDO and air operators?”
“Thank you, Representative Kahele. Just starting with the last one: Yes, you have our commitment on that… as you mentioned, the Common Procedures Manual is something that needs to be updated, and the FAA’s flight standards organization is planning to update the procedures associated with that and modernize how we do that. And we’ll absolutely include public engagement with it – with the communities in Hawaiʻi – before doing that. While doing that.
“And the second topic, on the Air Tour Management Plans, the FAA and the National Park Service are currently developing Air Tour Management Plans for 24 national parks. We expect to complete approximately 12 to 15 of those by this summer. However, for the parks in Hawaiʻi, it will take a bit longer to do because of the environmental considerations involved. The number of operations and considerations regarding tribal engagement. So, we’re planning for that to take a little bit longer. But that’s in part due to the – like I said, the level of helicopter traffic there and all of the stakeholder interest and consultations. But we are hard at work on that and we are very closely working with the National Park Service on those Air Tour Management Plans.”
In late February, the National Park Service and the FAA announced that they are seeking input on potential alternatives for an Air Tour Management Plan for Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. Public comment is currently open until April 1, 2022.