The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
Saturday, 04 September 2021 16:32

Park service seeks public input on regulation of Smokies helicopter flights

A public input session has begun as part of a joint effort between the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Park Service to establish limited helicopter tour routes over Great Smoky Mountains National Park along with protocols geared to reduce the environmental and visitor impact of the flights.

The flights are already occurring, and have been for years; park service officials said in a news release that 946 flights per year would be allowed under the Air Tour Management Plan, in line with current levels of helicopter tours conducted each year by two operators outside the park.

The park service and FAA plan a virtual public meeting on the proposed tour routes at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 16. Public comment is accepted through Oct. 3, and can be entered into the record at the Smokies Air Tour Management Plan website.

"Great Smoky Mountains National Park is among 24 parks of the National Park System developing air tour management plans in cooperation with the FAA," park officials said in a press release.

"The agencies hope to complete all air tour management plans by the end of August 2022. The schedule is part of a plan approved by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for the agencies to comply with the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000 within two years."