The National Park Service and Federal Aviation Administration would end all air tours at Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Badlands National Park in South Dakota, under a new plan announced this week.
At the same time, the agencies said they also want to limit overflights at two Hawaiian parks — Hawaiʻi Volcanoes and Haleakalā — where visitors have long complained about the noise.
NPS said it is working with the FAA to complete air tour management plans under a schedule approved by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The goal is to bring the agencies in compliance with the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000.
“It has taken more than 20 years and no small amount of litigation to finally force the FAA and park service to implement the National Air Tour Management Act of 2000,” said Paula Dinerstein, general counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which won the court order along with other groups.
Under the new plan, air tours at the South Dakota parks would end as soon as environmental assessments are completed.
“We encourage anyone who is interested in air tours over Mount Rushmore National Memorial to share their thoughts on the proposed plan,” said Michelle Wheatley, the park’s superintendent, adding that it was drafted after consulting with tribes and other interested parties.
The two agencies have adopted air tour management plans for 13 other national parks in the past few months without conducting any environmental reviews, PEER said.
The new plan would ban all flights over the Mount Rushmore memorial and within a half-mile of the park site, while no tours would be allowed within a half-mile of the border of Badlands.
Currently, two air tour operators are allowed to conduct tours of the South Dakota parks.
PEER said the tour operators have been authorized to conduct up to 5,608 commercial air tours at Mount Rushmore each year but averaged 3,914 air tours per year from 2017 to 2019.
At Badlands, operators averaged 1,425 tours each year during the three-year period, PEER said.
Overflights at Hawai’i Volcanoes would be limited to 1,565 a year, down from an average of 11,376 overflights each year between 2017 and 2019.
And at Haleakalā, they would drop to a maximum of 2,412 per year, down from an average of 4,824 during the same three-year period.