(WATE) — The National Park Service and the Federal Aviation Administration want to hear the public’s opinion on a proposed plan for air tours over Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The plan was created after concerns that noise from tour aircraft could harm national park resources and experiences for visitors.
The plan follows guidelines set by the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000 and is on public review until Oct. 3. The agencies hope to complete air tour management plans for the Smokies and 23 other national parks by the end of August 2022.
Under existing conditions, the annual number of commercial air tours over the Smokies is limited; however, there are no designated parameters on route, time-of-day, or altitude restrictions to further protect GSMNP resources or visitor experience. Currently, no procedures are in place that allows the national park to establish no-fly periods. There are also no training or education requirements for the commercial air tour operators flying over the park.
The proposed plan would authorize up to 946 air tours per year on defined routes. There were on average 946 air tours per year conducted by two air tour operators, Whirl’d Helicopters, Inc. and Great Smoky Mountain Helicopter, Inc., reported at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from 2017-2019.
Based on the three-year average, Whirl’d Helicopters conducts an average of 864 commercial air tours at the Park each year. Great Smoky Mountain Helicopter is estimated to conduct 82 commercial air tours at the Park each year. Whirl’d conducts commercial air tours on four different routes within the Smokies. Great Smoky Mountain Helicopter conducts commercial air tours on two different routes.
All routes flown by both operators are flown between 1,000 feet and 1,500 ft. above ground level. Commercial air tours may occur at any time and on any day of the week.
The NPS and FAA will host a virtual public meeting regarding the management plan at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16 online at youtu.be/BIIt8gzNVVA. Members of the public who wish to observe the virtual meeting can also access the live stream from the following FAA social media platforms on the day of the event, including www.facebook.com/FAA, twitter.com/FAANews, or www.youtube.com/FAAnews.
Public feedback can be provided through the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment website. The project website is parkplanning.nps.gov/GreatSmokyMountainsATMP.