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‘National parks aren’t playgrounds’: Air tour plans for Hawaii’s national parks still in progress

  • September 24, 2021

HILO, Hawaii — Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has yet to submit a court-ordered management plan for air tours over its public land.

The action is required 21 years after the Air Tour Management Act of 2000 was enacted and a year after a federal judge ruled in favor of environmental groups, including one from Hawaii’s Big Island, that petitioned the court to enforce the law, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Wednesday.

About half of the 24 national parks have completed drafts, the newspaper reported. The court gave them until August 2022 to complete the plans.

The law requires commercial air tours over national parks and some tribal lands to obtain federal permits. Federal agencies are also required to include conditions or prohibitions for flying over some wilderness areas.

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said in an email to the Tribune-Herald that the National Park Service and Federal Aviation Administration are working on rules for all parks and will release plans in the coming months.

“Currently, Hawaii Volcanoes is working with FAA and other staff within the NPS to review information from the previous environmental assessment and environmental impact statement efforts,” Ferracane said. “We are incorporating data and information that has been collected since 2012 in order to develop the alternatives.”

Bob Ernst, a founding board member of the environmental group Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono, one of the two groups that petitioned the court, fears Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will continue a business-as-usual approach.

“National parks aren’t playgrounds,” Ernst said. “They’re not moneymaking venues for private enterprise – especially the designated wilderness areas.”

Ernst said his group wants the park to operate in ways that are not alienating local people or businesses.

“We are not asking the FAA to stop all air tours in Hawaii,” he said. “Some of the most beautiful views of Hawaii Island are along the coast. These operators … can develop air tours that operate offshore with the view of the island.”

Ernst said the 2000 Air Tour Management Act requires some no-fly zones. “And that’s what we are advocating for,” he said.

Maui’s Haleakala National Park is also still working on a plan.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park reported the most flights nationally, and Haleakala National Park had the fifth-highest number of air tours in 2019.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

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