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Management plan may result in fewer air tours above Haleakala

Options could include prohibiting tours in certain areas or providing a singular flight path

The snow-dusted slopes of Haleakala are seen in February 2019. Federal officials are seeking public input as they develop an air tour management plan for Haleakala National Park that could result in fewer air tours within a half-mile of the park. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Federal officials are working to develop an air tour management plan for Haleakala National Park that will likely result in fewer air tours within a half-mile of the park.

Currently six commercial air tour operators are authorized to fly up to a combined total of 25,827 annual commercial air tours over the park, though the yearly amount is far lower. From 2017 to 2019, there were an average of 4,824 flights over Haleakala National Park per year, according to a news release from the park. The majority of the companies fly helicopters.

A February newsletter from the park said the National Park Service and Federal Aviation Administration, which are working on the plan, “considered but dismissed” the option of allowing air tour operations at or above existing numbers.

NPS determined that this would result in “unacceptable impacts” to the park’s natural and cultural resources and visitor enjoyment. It added that the existing air tour operations result in “frequent and loud noise disruptions” and that noise from air tours “adversely impacts existing Native Hawaiian sacred sites and landscapes.”

“Native Hawaiians have consistently noted the persistent air tours over the Park unreasonably interfere with ceremonies conducted by Native Hawaiian practitioners at these scared sites,” the newsletter said.

In 2000, Congress passed the National Parks Air Tour Management Act, which requires the Federal Aviation Administration and National Park Service to develop a plan or voluntary agreement for each park where air tour operations occur or are proposed.

When the agencies failed to create the plans, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Hawaii Coalition Malama Pono filed a lawsuit in 2017 asking the court to order the FAA to draft either air tour plans or voluntary agreements for seven parks within two years, the Associated Press reported at the time.

On May 1, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered the NPS and FAA to develop and implement a plan for bringing 23 parks into compliance. This includes Haleakala along with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii island.

The agencies are now working to develop a plan for Haleakala that will apply to commercial air tours that occur within a half-mile of the park’s boundary at an altitude of 5,000 feet or less above ground.

They are evaluating three alternatives:

• No action, which would allow the continuation of air tours under the interim operating authority without implementation of the air tour management plan or voluntary agreement. (The “no action” alternative must be listed to provide a basis for comparison but is not an option, NPS said.)

• Prohibiting air tours within the air tour management plan planning area to maximize park resource protection. Air tours could still continue to fly outside the plan area.

• Providing a singular flight path within the air tour management plan planning area and a reduction in the annual number of commercial air tours over the park.

“If you have thoughts about how air tours should be managed in the park, please provide your input,” said Natalie Gates, superintendent of Haleakala National Park. “Haleakala National Park staff have used input from prior to 2012 and data collected since then to create various alternatives for the current draft Air Tour Management Plan. When completed the ATMP will allow the NPS and the FAA to manage air tours over the park to protect resources, wilderness and visitor experience.”

The deadline for comments is April 1.

For more information on the plan and current tour operations at the park, as well as to provide comments, visit parkplanning.nps.gov/HaleakalaATMP.

Comments can also be mailed to: Superintendent, Haleakala National Park, P.O. Box 369, Makawao, HI 96768.

Comments will not be accepted by fax, email or in any manner other than the methods specified above.

Bulk comments in any format (hard copy or electronic) submitted on behalf of others will not be accepted.

Personal addresses, phone numbers, email addresses or other personal identifying information in written comments may be made publicly available at any time, NPS said.

Anyone wishing to comment may ask the National Park Service to withhold their personal identifying information from public review, but the park service cannot guarantee it will be able to do so.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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