It’s not much, but it’s a start. The troubled FAA/NPS collaborative planning process has completed an actual final plan to manage air tours at a national park. But don’t get too excited: it’s not a full-on Air Tour Management Plan, as was the goal for all national parks with sightseeing flights when the two agencies were charged with the task fifteen years ago. Taking advantage of new rules encouraging voluntary agreements with air tour providers, Biscayne National Park in Florida is on the verge of finalizing such agreements with two flight providers.
The good news is that these agreements limit flights from 8am to 6pm, which leaves sunrise free from flights year-round, while sunsets only occur a bit before 6pm for a couple months in the heart of winter. Similar provisions for flight-free times extending an hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise at the Grand Canyon were derailed at the last minute by Senators McCain and Reid in a rare show of bipartisan meddling. The Grand Canyon remains the only National Park with a formal air tour plan, thanks in part to the fact that the FAA was not part of that process, which predated the start of the FAA/NPS efforts (the FAA and NPS have different approaches to the EIS process, which they’ve been unable to resolve). So it may be an encouraging sign that the first agreements to come out of the joint planning do manage to keep the magic hours on each end of the day free for quieter recreation.
Of course, Biscayne is not your typical National Park. Within sight of Miami, there is plenty of boat traffic and most of the action takes place near the seashore, with all of its natural and human soundscapes, as well as on and under the waters of Biscayne Bay. Plus, the number of air tours is small (200 annual flights, most from November to May), and there is probably little demand for sunrise and sunset flights. Still, perhaps this first small step will set a precedent for plans at other parks.