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Know the West

Planes beat out quiet

  After hearing the complaints of air tour operators, the Federal Aviation Administration recently delayed setting up new flight-free zones over the Grand Canyon for another year. Critics blasted the postponement, which came 10 months after President Clinton ordered an immediate reduction of noise at the park.

The FAA is trying to shrug off the National Parks Overflight Act, says Sierra Club spokesman Dick Hingson, referring to the federal law that promised to restore "natural quiet" to the park 10 years ago. Seven groups, including the Sierra Club, are now filing suit to have that law upheld.

Hingson likens the booming air-tour business to "a feeding frenzy," with some 15,000 people a month now flying over the canyon (HCN, 8/19/96).

Helicopter-tour business owner Ron Williams says the delay in restrictions was needed for pilots who are using the old flight paths to train for the upcoming tourist season. "We're not averse to changing routes, but let's do this safely and logically," he says.

Williams is also critical of two other restrictions, scheduled to take effect May 1: a dusk-through-dawn aircraft curfew and a cap on the number of planes allowed in a commercial sight-seeing fleet. He says air-tour operators plan their own lawsuit against the FAA regulations.

"Ten years ago, we flew anywhere and everywhere," said Williams. "The park belongs to the people and the people would like to have this access."

* Danielle Desruisseaux