Aerial tours of Hawaii’s national parks continue without court-ordered plan

HILO, Hawaii – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has yet to submit a court-ordered management plan for aerial tours over its public lands.

Action is required 21 years after the Air Tour Management Act of 2000 was enacted and one year after a federal judge ruled in favor of environmental groups, including one from the Big Island of Hawaii, who asked the law enforcement court, the Hawaii Tribune. Herald reported on Wednesday.

About half of the 24 national parks have completed the projects, 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 certain areas of wilderness.

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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 post plans in the coming months.

“Currently, Hawaii Volcanoes is working with the FAA and other NPS staff to review information from previous environmental assessments and environmental impact studies,” Ferracane said. “We are integrating 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 two groups that took the court action, is concerned that Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is pursuing a standstill approach.

“National parks are not playgrounds,” Ernst said. “These are not lucrative places for private companies – especially the designated wilderness areas.”

Ernst said his group wanted the park to operate in a way that did not alienate local people or businesses.

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

Ernst said the 2000 Air Travel Management Act requires certain no-fly zones. “And that is what we are advocating,” he said.

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

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park recorded the most flights nationwide, and Haleakala National Park recorded the fifth most aerial visits in 2019.

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

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