Glacier will phase out commercial air tours by 2029, but is that soon enough?


Hungry Horse News

Glacier National Park released a final air tour management plan last week that looks to end all helicopter and airplane air tours by Dec. 31, 2029. It will also cap existing air tours to 144 flights maximum annually and will restrict where planes and helicopters can fly for the remaining seven years.

The moves come 30 years after Glacier's General Management Plan called for air tours to cease over the park.

It took a lawsuit filed by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility against the Park Service and Federal Aviation Administration to get to this point.

PEER spokesman Jeff Ruch said the organization was pleased that Glacier was fading out tours altogether, but he said the Park should have gone through a formal environmental review process that would have looked at alternatives and taken public input.

Because as it stands now, Glacier will still allow the status quo to continue — up to 144 flights a year—until the sunset at the end of the decade.

Ruch maintained the Park Service could phase out flights even sooner. Glacier really doesn't give a reason for the 7-year delay.

He also had concerns that by not going through National Policy Environmental Act review, it could open the Park Service to a future lawsuit by flight operators. Other parks, like Mount Rushmore, for example, are going through formal environmental reviews.

Still, he noted, Glacier, to date, is the only national park to announce it was ending air tours altogether.

A federal appeals court in May 2020 ruled that Glacier, along with 22 other national parks had to come up with an air tour management plan with the federal Aviation Administration within two years. The ruling came after a lawsuit was filed in 2017 by PEER that forced the issue.

Glacier's General Management Plan, which was finalized in 1999, called for no commercial air tour flights over the park, but it was never implemented.

This final plan also restricts the flight path of tours, which have to follow the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor on the west side of the divide only.

It also requires planes and helicopters to turn around near Road Camp and fly over the Loop. They cannot fly over Logan Pass.

No single operator can conduct more than three tours a day. But Homestead Helicopters and Minuteman Aviation are allowed three and five allowed three and five flights apiece annually, so in essence, they would have minimal tours.

Red Eagle Aviation has the most flights at 136.

The plan does not allow for any air tours over Blackfeet Tribal Lands.

It's also considered a Glacier Park air tour if the aircraft flies within a half-mile of the park boundary.

The plan does not regulate administrative flights in Glacier. Glacier uses helicopters to fly equipment in and out of the park.

Air tours over the park have been a major complaint from visitors for decades.