Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
Arizona: Modification of Commercial Aircraft Operations Within the Grand Canyon Special Flight Rules Area
Agencies: Federal Aviation Administration and National Park Service
Criteria for Council Involvement:
- This project has the potential to have an adverse effect on a number of historic properties of traditional religious and cultural importance to the Hualapai Tribe (Criteria 1 and 4).
This January, the Council signed a Programmatic Agreement (PA) for the proposed modification of commercial aircraft operations in the Special Flight Rules Area in the vicinity of Grand Canyon National Park. The other signatories are the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Park Service (NPS), the Hualapai tribal government, and the Hualapai Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO).
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
(Photographer: National Park Service)
In addition to providing for completion of identification of traditional cultural places (TCPs) of religious and cultural significance to the Hualapai, the PA acknowledges proposed changes in commercial air tour routes to reduce impacts to those TCPs and commits FAA and NPS to a variety of mitigation measures. For example, FAA will work with the Hualapai to ensure that the manual and maps designed for pilots to use in the Special Flight Rules Area are drafted so as to reduce impacts to TCPs.
High altitude flight will be encouraged, while the use of TCPs as visual reference points for navigation will be avoided. FAA will also train the Hualapai in identifying and reporting violations of the flight rules and will work with the Hualapai to ensure that tribal concerns are addressed in pilot education programs. An auditory and visual monitoring program will be implemented, with results of the monitoring considered during development of the upcoming Comprehensive Noise Management Plan for the park. Development of the plan will also be used as an opportunity to further explore mitigation for overflight impacts to Hualapai TCPs.
FAA’s present consultation has its origins in the National Parks Overflights Act in 1987, passage of which was prompted by growing conflicts between air traffic and the protection and enjoyment of our national parks. Among its provisions, this law directed NPS and FAA to work to substantially restore the natural quiet of Grand Canyon National Park.
As a result, in 1988, FAA established a Special Flight Rules Area where aircraft operations were restricted. In 1994, in accordance with the Overflights Act, NPS submitted a report to Congress on the effectiveness of this action which concluded that natural quiet had not yet been substantially restored in the park.
Since 1994, FAA and NPS have been working to revise procedures for aircraft operations at the Grand Canyon. In 1997, portions of revised procedures were put in place, including curfews, a cap on the number of commercial sightseeing aircraft, and reporting requirements for operators of such aircraft. The effective date of several other proposed actions, including expansion of flight-free zones and revision of aircraft routes, was postponed for a year. Subsequent postponements resulted in a deadline of January 31, 2000, for implementation.
A principal issue under discussion during the past three years has been impacts to historic properties. The Grand Canyon Special Flight Rules Area extends beyond the boundaries of the national park proper, and aircraft operations impact not only the park but adjoining areas, including tribal lands of the Hualapai, Havasupai, and Navajo Tribes.
The potential for effects to historic properties is high given the area’s rich diversity of resources. The national park itself contains nine historic districts that include a number of National Historic Landmarks, as well as many archeological sites. The park and surrounding area also include many TCPs of significance to the Hualapai, Havasupai, and Navajo Tribes, as well as the Hopi, Kaibab Paiute, Paiute of Utah, San Juan Southern Paiute, and Zuni.
In accordance with the Council’s regulations, FAA analyzed whether historic properties would be adversely affected by the proposed modifications to aircraft operations. The agency determined that there would not be adverse effects outside of the Hualapai reservation. The Arizona State Historic Preservation Officer and the seven other tribes have not objected to that finding.
Proposed operational changes will actually have a beneficial impact on a number of historic properties. Flight-free zones will be increased, and several of the existing commercial sightseeing routes, including those over the Havasupai reservation, will be eliminated completely; others will be rerouted. Significant portions of existing routes will also be eliminated over the Hualapai reservation; however, portions of Hualapai land will still be crossed by aircraft routes.
FAA has worked with the Hualapai tribe to fund an ethnographic survey to clarify which TCPs of significance to the tribe are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Forty TCPs have been identified to date, at least some of which may be adversely impacted through noise and visual intrusion due to aircraft operations.
Final phases of the study remain to be completed. With the deadline for implementation of the route structure fast approaching, FAA and NPS consulted with the Hualapai and the Council to draft a PA to address completion of the study, monitoring of noise impacts, and mitigation measures.
The impact of overflights on the protection of resources and the quality of visitor experience in national parks is an issue of continuing concern. As this case highlights, however, there are no easy answers that do not involve compromises and trade-offs. One aspect that must be considered is the potential for increased impact on cultural and natural resources outside of parks as a result of actions taken to reduce effects within them.
Staff contact: Druscilla Null
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