49 U.S.C. § 40128 - Overflights of national parks

Cite as:49 U.S.C. § 40128
Currency:Current through P.L. 116-135 (03/26/2020)
 
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(a) IN GENERAL.-

(1) GENERAL REQUIREMENTS.-A commercial air tour operator may not conduct commercial air tour operations over a national park or tribal lands, as defined by this section, except-

(A) in accordance with this section;

(B) in accordance with conditions and limitations prescribed for that operator by the Administrator; and

(C) in accordance with any applicable air tour management plan or voluntary agreement under subsection (b)(7) for the park or tribal lands.

(2) APPLICATION FOR OPERATING AUTHORITY.-

(A) APPLICATION REQUIRED.-Before commencing commercial air tour operations over a national park or tribal lands, a commercial air tour operator shall apply to the Administrator for authority to conduct the operations over the park or tribal lands.

(B) COMPETITIVE BIDDING FOR LIMITED CAPACITY PARKS.-Whenever an air tour management plan limits the number of commercial air tour operations over a national park during a specified time frame, the Administrator, in cooperation with the Director, shall issue operation specifications to commercial air tour operators that conduct such operations. The operation specifications shall include such terms and conditions as the Administrator and the Director find necessary for management of commercial air tour operations over the park. The Administrator, in cooperation with the Director, shall develop an open competitive process for evaluating proposals from persons interested in providing commercial air tour operations over the park. In making a selection from among various proposals submitted, the Administrator, in cooperation with the Director, shall consider relevant factors, including-

(i) the safety record of the person submitting the proposal or pilots employed by the person;

(ii) any quiet aircraft technology proposed to be used by the person submitting the proposal;

(iii) the experience of the person submitting the proposal with commercial air tour operations over other national parks or scenic areas;

(iv) the financial capability of the person submitting the proposal;

(v) any training programs for pilots provided by the person submitting the proposal; and

(vi) responsiveness of the person submitting the proposal to any relevant criteria developed by the National Park Service for the affected park.

(C) NUMBER OF OPERATIONS AUTHORIZED.-In determining the number of authorizations to issue to provide commercial air tour operations over a national park, the Administrator, in cooperation with the Director, shall take into consideration the provisions of the air tour management plan, the number of existing commercial air tour operators and current level of service and equipment provided by any such operators, and the financial viability of each commercial air tour operation.

(D) COOPERATION WITH NPS.-Before granting an application under this paragraph, the Administrator, in cooperation with the Director, shall develop an air tour management plan in accordance with subsection (b) and implement such plan.

(E) TIME LIMIT ON RESPONSE TO ATMP APPLICATIONS.-The Administrator shall make every effort to act on any application under this paragraph and issue a decision on the application not later than 24 months after it is received or amended.

(F) PRIORITY.-In acting on applications under this paragraph to provide commercial air tour operations over a national park, the Administrator shall give priority to an application under this paragraph in any case in which a new entrant commercial air tour operator is seeking operating authority with respect to that national park.

(3) EXCEPTION.-Notwithstanding paragraph (1), commercial air tour operators may conduct commercial air tour operations over a national park under part 91 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations if-

(A) such activity is permitted under part 119 of such title;

(B) the operator secures a letter of agreement from the Administrator and the national park superintendent for that national park describing the conditions under which the operations will be conducted; and

(C) the total number of operations under this exception is limited to not more than five flights in any 30-day period over a particular park.

(4) SPECIAL RULE FOR SAFETY REQUIREMENTS.-Notwithstanding subsection (c), an existing commercial air tour operator shall apply, not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this section, for operating authority under part 119, 121, or 135 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations. A new entrant commercial air tour operator shall apply for such authority before conducting commercial air tour operations over a national park or tribal lands. The Administrator shall make every effort to act on any such application for a new entrant and issue a decision on the application not later than 24 months after it is received or amended.

(5) EXEMPTION FOR NATIONAL PARKS WITH 50 OR FEWER FLIGHTS EACH YEAR.-

(A) IN GENERAL.-Notwithstanding paragraph (1), a national park that has 50 or fewer commercial air tour operations over the park each year shall be exempt from the requirements of this section, except as provided in subparagraph (B).

(B) WITHDRAWAL OF EXEMPTION.-If the Director determines that an air tour management plan or voluntary agreement is necessary to protect park resources and values or park visitor use and enjoyment, the Director shall withdraw the exemption of a park under subparagraph (A).

(C) LIST OF PARKS.-

(i) IN GENERAL.-The Director and Administrator shall jointly publish a list each year of national parks that are covered by the exemption provided under this paragraph.

(ii) NOTIFICATION OF WITHDRAWAL OF EXEMPTION.-The Director shall inform the Administrator, in writing, of each determination to withdraw an exemption under subparagraph (B).

(D) ANNUAL REPORT.-A commercial air tour operator conducting commercial air tour operations over a national park that is exempt from the requirements of this section shall submit to the Administrator and the Director a report each year that includes the number of commercial air tour operations the operator conducted during the preceding 1-year period over such park.

(b) AIR TOUR MANAGEMENT PLANS.-

(1) ESTABLISHMENT.-

(A) IN GENERAL.-The Administrator, in cooperation with the Director, shall establish an air tour management plan for any national park or tribal land for which such a plan is not in effect whenever a person applies for authority to conduct a commercial air tour operation over the park. The air tour management plan shall be developed by means of a public process in accordance with paragraph (4).

(B) OBJECTIVE.-The objective of any air tour management plan shall be to develop acceptable and effective measures to mitigate or prevent the significant adverse impacts, if any, of commercial air tour operations upon the natural and cultural resources, visitor experiences, and tribal lands.

(C) EXCEPTION.-An application to begin or expand commercial air tour operations at Crater Lake National Park or Great Smoky Mountains National Park may be denied without the establishment of an air tour management plan by the Director of the National Park Service if the Director determines that such operations would adversely affect park resources or visitor experiences.

(2) ENVIRONMENTAL DETERMINATION.-In establishing an air tour management plan under this subsection, the Administrator and the Director shall each sign the environmental decision document required by section 102 of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 ( 42 U.S.C. 4332 ) which may include a finding of no significant impact, an environmental assessment, or an environmental impact statement and the record of decision for the air tour management plan.

(3) CONTENTS.-An air tour management plan for a national park-

(A) may prohibit commercial air tour operations over a national park in whole or in part;

(B) may establish conditions for the conduct of commercial air tour operations over a national park, including commercial air tour routes, maximum or minimum altitudes, time-of-day restrictions, restrictions for particular events, maximum number of flights per unit of time, intrusions on privacy on tribal lands, and mitigation of noise, visual, or other impacts;

(C) shall apply to all commercial air tour operations over a national park that are also within ½ mile outside the boundary of a national park;

(D) shall include incentives (such as preferred commercial air tour routes and altitudes, relief from caps and curfews) for the adoption of quiet aircraft technology by commercial air tour operators conducting commercial air tour operations over a national park;

(E) shall provide for the initial allocation of opportunities to conduct commercial air tour operations over a national park if the plan includes a limitation on the number of commercial air tour operations for any time period; and

(F) shall justify and document the need for measures taken pursuant to subparagraphs (A) through (E) and include such justifications in the record of decision.

(4) PROCEDURE.-In establishing an air tour management plan for a national park or tribal lands, the Administrator and the Director shall-

(A) hold at least one public meeting with interested parties to develop the air tour management plan;

(B) publish the proposed plan in the Federal Register for notice and comment and make copies of the proposed plan available to the public;

(C) comply with the regulations set forth in sections 1501.3 and 1501.5 through 1501.8 of title 40, Code of Federal Regulations (for purposes of complying with the regulations, the Federal Aviation Administration shall be the lead agency and the National Park Service is a cooperating agency); and

(D) solicit the participation of any Indian tribe whose tribal lands are, or may be, overflown by aircraft involved in a commercial air tour operation over the park or tribal lands to which the plan applies, as a cooperating agency under the regulations referred to in subparagraph (C).

(5) JUDICIAL REVIEW.-An air tour management plan developed under this subsection shall be subject to judicial review.

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