[Federal Register Volume 62, Number 8 (Monday, January 13, 1997)]
[Pages 1795-1797]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 97-664]



Notice of Finding of No Significant Impact

AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of 
Transportation (DOT).

ACTION: Notice of Finding of No Significant Impact.


SUMMARY: Notice is hereby given that the Federal Aviation 
Administration (FAA) has made a finding of no significant impact 
(FONSI) based on an Environmental Assessment (EA) for Special Flight 
Rules in the vicinity of the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).

Mr. William J. Marx, Federal Aviation Administration, Office of Air 
Traffic Airspace Management, Environmental Programs Division, ATA-300, 
800 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20591; Telephone: (202) 


Proposed Action

    On April 22, 1996, President Clinton issued a Memorandum for Heads 
of Executive Departments and Agencies, in which he announced his Earth 
Day initiative, Parks for Tomorrow. Included in that initiative was the 
directive to the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with 
appropriate officials, to consider a rulemaking to address the 
potential adverse impacts on RMNP and its visitors of overflights by 
sightseeing aircraft. The President's announcement also directed that 
the value of the natural quiet and the natural experience of the park 
be factors in any rulemaking action, along with protection of public 
health and safety. The Presidential Memorandum also required the FAA to 
issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) establishing national 
standards for air tour operations over national parks.
    The proposed rule for RMNP was to be issued within 90 days. On May 
15, 1996 (61 FR 24382), the FAA published a NPRM that proposed several 
methods of preserving the natural park experience of RMNP by 
restricting aircraft-based sightseeing flights: (1) A total ban (2) 
limits on operations, and (3) voluntary agreements. The NPRM indicated 
that the FAA would select a viable alternative based on comments 
received and other pertinent information, identify a proposed 
alternative for final rulemaking, and if rulemaking was selected, issue 
an EA for public comment. The NPRM indicated that the EA would evaluate 
the alternatives identified for detailed study and assess the current 
condition and the preferred alternative.
    To enhance opportunities for public participation, the FAA reopened 
the comment period on the NPRM to allow comment on a Draft EA that 

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the alternatives in the NPRM. In preparing the final EA, the FAA 
considered the public comments on environmental issues. Those comments 
were limited in number, and mainly addressed the NPRM itself. The 
majority of comments on the Draft EA were favorable to the 
implementation of the NPRM as it applies to a total of air tour 
operations in RMNP, e.g., citing excessive noise, reduced safety, and 
loss of quality wilderness experience if tour operations were allowed. 
A minority of commenters, virtually all representing aviation 
interests, voiced opposition to any regulation of overflights at RMNP, 
e.g., citing unreasonable interference with interstate and intrastate 
commerce, FAA's lack of statutory authority to implement the NPRM, and 
that air tourism creates less pollution than ground visitors. In 
response to comments, the FAA has decided to take temporary action 
here, complete a review of the temporary ban within twenty-four months, 
and proceed to consider a national rule that will supersede any 
temporary ban that remains in effect.
    The FAA by issuance of the proposed Final Rule would temporarily 
ban operators from conducting commercial air tour operations within the 
RMNP Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA). The ban on commercial air tour 
operations is the preferred alternative for a temporary period because 
it appears to be the most efficient and viable method of preserving the 
natural enjoyment of the visitors to RMNP. In application and result it 
would assure that the environment relative to air tour operators will 
not be degraded while the benefits of a temporary ban are evaluated or 
relevant national standards are developed. Within twenty-four months of 
the effective date of this temporary ban, the FAA, in conjunction with 
the National Park Service (NPS), will complete a review of the 
temporary ban and publish its findings in the Federal Register. The FAA 
will determine whether the ban continues to be necessary to meet the 
objectives of the FAA and NPS. If the Proposed Final Rule is not 
repealed by a separate rulemaking, it will expire as soon as a general 
rule on national standards is adopted.


    National parks are unique resources that have been provided special 
protection by law. The FAA and the NPS recognize that commercial 
aviation sightseeing tours, once initiated in national parks, tend to 
increase to levels that potentially adversely affect visitor enjoyment 
and park values.
    The special flight rules in the vicinity of the RMNP seek to 
preserve the natural environment of RMNP from potential future 
overflights by commercial sightseeing aviation tour operators. Several 
operators have recently explored the possibility of conducting tour 
flights over RMNP and the park has identified potential impacts from 
such activities. The NPS has also determined that such impacts would 
not be acceptable given the particular circumstances at the park, and 
has identified a need to take preventive action.
    Experience demonstrates a trend of increased commercial air tour 
overflight at other national parks. In addition, the Governor of 
Colorado, members of the Colorado congressional delegation, and other 
officials have requested regulatory action to place a preemptive ban on 
air tour operations to preserve visitor enjoyment.
    The RMNP rule is being adopted to respond to the very unique 
circumstances surrounding this park, as explained in detail in the 
proposed Final Rule and Final EA. Among the unique circumstances is 
that it has a high percentage of elevations above 10,000 feet above 
ground level (AGL) and has roads that afford numerous opportunities for 
viewing its vistas. Park officials estimate that fifty percent of the 
park can be seen from 149 miles of its roads. it features Trail Ridge 
Road, the highest continuous paved road in the country, which offers 
spectacular vistas that encompass approximately 415 squire miles of 
parkland. Further, there is strong local support for a ban on air tour 

Environmental Impacts

    The FAA has prepared the EA for the proposed Final Rule consistent 
with FAA Order 1050.1D, Para. 35. The major categories of concern are 
noise, wildlife, historic and cultural resources, and air quality. 
Since there are no tours at present, modified Alternative 1, the 
temporary ban, would maintain the existing environment relative to such 
operations. Based upon consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife 
Service, there are no concerns about potential impacts on threatened or 
endangered species. Based upon consultation with the Colorado State 
Historic Preservation Society, in its capacity as the State Historic 
Preservation Office for Colorado, there are no potentially significant 
effects on historic or cultural properties. The requirement to 
determine conformity with the State Air Quality Implementation Plan 
pursuant to Section 176(c) of the Clean Air Act as amended in 1990, 
does not apply because the area is designated attainment for all 
criteria pollutants. Modified Alternative 1, the temporary ban, should 
have a beneficial impact by reducing potential emissions. 
Implementation of the other alternatives and the No Action Alternative 
should not appreciably affect air quality. Regarding Section 4(f) of 
the Department of Transportation Act, Section 4(g) is not triggered 
because the proposed Final Rule does not involve construction activity 
so as to cause actual, physical use of RMNP. Further, the proposed 
Final Rule potentially reduces rather than increase noise levels, and 
accordingly does not substantially interfere with the use and value of 
RMNP, resulting in a constructive use. The EA has not disclosed 
potentially significant direct or indirect impacts affecting the 
quality of the human environment. Based on this EA, it has been 
determined that no additional environmental analysis is required and 
that all aspects of the proposed Federal action are consistent with a 
Finding of No Significant Impact.


    The FAA completed an analysis of various alternatives identified in 
the Proposed Final Rule, including an explanation for the selection of 
a modified Alternative 1 as the Preferred Alternative. Modified 
Alternative 1 is a temporary ban, which is to expire upon adoption of a 
national rule on air tour standards as explained above. In developing 
alternatives for study in this EA, the FAA was guided by the purposes 
and need for this rulemaking and its statutory mission and objectives, 
as well as those of the NPS. Alternatives other than the temporary ban 
that were considered were a limit on commercial aviation sightseeing 
tour below 2,000 feet AGL in RMNP, and voluntary agreements. The ``no 
action'' alternative, the continued possibility of air tour operators 
to conduct tour flights over RMNP, was also considered. It was found to 
have no significant environmental impacts. However, it does not meet 
the FAA's and NPS objective to initiate preventive action to preserve 
the natural enjoyment of visitors to the RMNP.


    After careful and thorough consideration of the facts contained 
herein, the undersigned finds that the proposed Federal action is 
consistent with existing national environmental policies and objectives 
as set forth in Section 101(a) of the National Environmental Policy Act 
of 1969, as amended (NEPA) and that it will not

[[Page 1797]]

significantly affect the quality of the human environment or otherwise 
include any condition requiring consultation pursuant to Section 
102(2)(c) of NEPA.

    Dated: January 6, 1997.
Nancy B. Kalinowski,
Manager, Planning and Analysis Division, ATA-200, Air Traffic Airspace 
Management, FAA Headquarters.
[FR Doc. 97-664 Filed 1-10-97; 8:45 am]