Whether you enjoy exploring the wilderness backcountry or picnicking at Paradise or Sunrise Visitor Centers at Mt. Rainier National Park, commercial sightseeing flights could affect your experience of Washington’s most iconic park. The National Park Service is considering how to manage air tour flights, low altitude “fly bys” aimed at giving tourists a unique view of Mt. Rainier and the surrounding territory. But for many on-the-ground visitors looking for a wilderness experience, these flights are not as scenic.You can have a voice in developing plans for air tour operations by attending a public meeting hosted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Park Service (NPS). The three meetings are open for public commenting on the Air Tour Management Plan:
April 26th, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the Mountaineers Program Center, 7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA.
April 27th, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m at the Mt. Rainier National Park Education Center , 55210 238th Ave. E., Ashford, WA.
April 28th, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, WA.
Can’t make a meeting? Recreationists are encouraged to submit comments online by May 16th at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/MORA_ATMP.
During the meetings, four alternative plans will be discussed. These alternatives will apply to all commercial air tour operations below 5,000 feet above ground level flying over the area of the park including a .5 miles buffer zone.
1. No Air Tours Alternative: No commercial air touring flights will be allowed.
2. Interim Operating Authority (IOA) No Action Alternative: The IOA sets the number of flights for an air tour business in a year. In this region, there are five air tour operators that have been allotted a total of 114 flight days. This plan maintains the number of flight days set at 114 days. There are no restrictions on the time, day, and season that flights can occur, and the plan allows for two loop routes around Mt. Rainier.
3. Existing Flights Alternative: Although the IOA allows up to 114 days, the actual number of days used by operators is significantly less. This alternative better reflects actual trends, capping the number of flights of 4-6 seat single engine planes at 55 per year with no restrictions on time, day, or season of flights. It does set restrictions for minimum flight altitude at 2,000 feet above ground and a 3-4 lateral buffer from Mt. Rainier.
4. Highway 123 and Southern Route Alternative: In this plan, aircraft must fly over these roads. The alternative also allows 0-114 days of flights, but with time of day restrictions. This alternative caps the number of flights per day at four and allows air tours only on Monday-Thursday. The minimum altitude requirements are contingent on the destination of the flight.