FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Air tour operators that use aircraft with quiet technology will be able to fly more people over the Grand Canyon.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it plans to release 1,721 flight allocations this year that had been abandoned to those commercial tour operators, as long as their active fleet doesn't increase noise in the park overall.
An extensive transportation bill passed in 2012 requires the FAA and the National Park Service to come up with incentives for quiet air technology at the canyon. Earlier this year, the Park Service reduced the fees for air tour operators that use the technology from $25 per flight to $20.
The FAA determines whether aircraft is considered quiet by using a formula that takes into account noise certification levels and the number of seats.
The FAA's decision to release more flights was published this week in the Federal Register. It would bring the total number of air tours allowed per year to nearly 94,000, though not all of those are used. FAA data show that almost 52,000 commercial flights took passengers on sightseeing tours over the Grand Canyon in 2012.
Converting an aircraft to meet the definition of quiet does not necessarily mean the aircraft will be quieter. Operators could, for example, add more seats to existing aircraft or switch out engines to satisfy the standard.
Nearly 50 of the flight allocations being freed up by the FAA are for the Dragon and Zuni Point corridors, which take passengers over the widest and deepest part of the canyon, and to the eastern edge. Those are expected to be used up quickly. While allocations from those corridors can be transferred to other areas of the canyon, the remaining 1,672 flights cannot be conducted within those corridors.