New rules for sightseeing flights will help restore some tranquility for boaters in the Grand Canyon, but the rancorous debate over where airplanes and helicopters are allowed shows no signs of quieting down (HCN, 1/20/97: It will be noise as usual in Grand Canyon).
Last year, after 13 years of deliberation, the Federal Aviation Administration capped the number of flights allowed over the national park at 90,000 annually. On March 25, the agency announced that it will eliminate two flight routes that follow the Colorado River between Las Vegas and the canyon.
The changes fall significantly short of the congressional mandate to restore 50 percent natural quiet to the canyon, said Grand Canyon Trust president Geoff Barnard. "They do nothing for the east end, where most of the noise exists," he said. That area includes the heavily visited South Rim tourist complex and the popular Hermit Trail.
The new routes were due to go into effect April 19, but days after they were unveiled, Las Vegas-based flight tour operators were in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., asking a judge to put them on hold. Steve Bassett, president of the U.S. Air Tour Association, said the changes would cause "irreparable damage" to Las Vegas air tour operators by eliminating routes along "the stuff that's pretty."
The tour operators are represented by the Mountain States Legal Foundation, where Interior Secretary Gale Norton was once an associate.