JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – A proposal to provide scenic helitours in Jackson Hole now lies in the applicant’s court after the public has largely weighed in, mostly in opposition of the idea.
At an open house hosted by the Jackson Hole Airport Board last week, the community expressed concerns and reservations ranging from noise to safety to general quality of backcountry experience. As a result of the feedback, applicant Tony Chambers withdrew his request to formally go before the airport board. He wants more time for both he and the community to see if an amicable way forward can be found.
At this point, the airport board is still expecting Chambers to present on February 17 his Wind River Air (WRA) proposal to provide scenic helicopter rides based out of the Jackson Hole Airport. The ultimate decision lies with Congress and the FAA.
While the airport itself does not have a final say, only input, it seems the board is not thrilled with the idea of Chambers flying his bird out of its airport based in the heart of Grand Teton National Park. At its December 18 meeting, airport board president Rick Braun directed staff to “revisit anything that they can do over the next 60 days to see if there is a legal remedy to prevent the operations of scenic helicopter tours.”
The airport is expected to reach out to legal counsel, congressional delegates, as well as the FAA to forge its opinion and present it to community leaders.
Official statements from the airport thus far have amounted to the following: “Operating in Jackson Hole and inside GTNP is a responsibility we take seriously. We strive to operate with best practices for our environment, its wildlife, our community and guests.”
The Jackson Hole Airport must comply with both Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, and its agreement with the Department of the Interior (DOI) under which the Airport operates in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP).
Among other things, FAA requires that the Airport be open to “all types, kinds and classes of aeronautical uses.” Exceptions exist for safety, but safety decisions are reserved to FAA alone.
In most cases, under the DOI agreement no scenic flights may originate at the Airport and fly over noise sensitive areas of GTNP, as defined in the agreement. The Airport Board is prohibited from otherwise regulating the routes of aircraft which land at or depart from the Airport.
With the exception of take-offs and landings, scenic air tour flights may overfly GTNP only if they comply with the federal Air Tour Management Act of 2000 (ATMA).
How we got here
In August 2018, the Airport received an application from Wind River Air LLC (WRA) to provide out-and-back helicopter flights to and from the Airport. This original application proposed dedicated ramp space and flights over GTNP.
Since dedicated space could not be provided by the Airport, and clearance under the ATMA would be required for flights over GTNP, WRA modified its application. The modified application excluded dedicated ramp space and avoided any GTNP overflights. The Airport Board recommended that WRA consult with GTNP, the National Elk Refuge, the Town and the County regarding noise concerns before pursuing its application. That consultation is ongoing.
Over the years, there have been several entities that have attempted to provide scenic flights from JH Airport. The FAA clarifies that scenic flights that fly over Park Service land merely for the purposes of landing and taking-off did not trigger The National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000 (ATMA).
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