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Wed, Mar 30, 2005

SHHHHHHH! FAA Announces New Plan To Quiet Planes Around Grand Canyon

Goal: "Restoring The Natural Quiet"

Newly-issued FAA regulations aimed directly at Grand Canyon tour operators in Nevada and Arizona will offer incentives to operators who invest in quieter engine technology, according to the agency. They're "the next of many steps toward restoring the natural quiet in the Grand Canyon National Park," according to an FAA official quoted by the Associated Press.

It's the latest development in a conflict between environmentalists and tour operators that goes back to 1987, when Congress ordered the FAA and the National Park Service to achieve "natural quiet" in the Canyon.

In 1996, the government drew heavy fire from aviation enthusiasts and tour operators over the FAA's suggestion to impose mandatory noise limits. The government also further restricted tour operators to certain routes through the canyon. If those measures were the proverbial stick, then apparently, the government's offer of incentives to operators who do quiet down is the carrot.

The new rules will encourage tour operators -- who fly as many as 800,000 tourists a year -- are aimed at making the at least half the park free of aircraft noise 75- to 100-percent of the time, said FAA spokesman Henry Price. "This part is working toward new aircraft and aircraft noise technologies."

The number and type of aircraft allowed to fly over the park wouldn't change, Price said. Rather, operators using quieter technology would qualify for more routes and fewer restrictions more often. Details are still in the works, Price said.

How do the tour operators like the new rules?

"We've been asking the FAA for years to do this," Steve Bassett, head of the US Tour Association told the AP. "Aircraft that meet the quiet technology standards should get something back."

Bassett thinks, in addition to the 800,000 sightseers who fly with his members now, quieter aircraft flying more routes with fewer restrictions could bring in another 1.7 million paying customers a year.

FMI: www.ustoa.com, www.faa.gov

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