Oversight hearing outcomes
On October 3, 2002, Senator John McCain, a sponsor of the 1987 Overflights Act, held an oversight hearing on the FAA’s progress in implementing this legislation. Senator McCain opened the hearing by stating his frustration that the work remains unfinished:
“I frankly don’t care who is responsible. What I care about is that we haven’t reached our goal 15 years after it was established as law. What I want to know is when and how we will reach final resolution.”
In September 2003, Senator McCain once again assumed his role as guardian of Grand Canyon’s natural quiet. As chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, he refused to accept section 409 of H.R.2115, the FAA Reauthorization bill, which would, in the short term, effectively have ended curfews for air tours flying in the Zuni and Dragon corridors over Grand Canyon National Park. The amendment would have prohibited any NPS curfew regulation from restricting air tours in those corridors for more than 1 hour after sunrise or before sunset. If this amendment had passed in the final bill, Grand Canyon visitors would lose many quiet hours each day. This amendment would also have impeded the NPS’ progress towards the mandate of “substantial restoration of natural quiet.”
In June 2003, the Grand Canyon Trust commented on the FAA’s Draft Rule on Quiet Technology. Our comments stated that, while the quiet technology rule could eventually be part of a larger plan, “quiet technology” was far too late, and was insufficient alone. We requested an immediate conversion to the quietest aircraft and a cap on the number of tour operations well below the 1987 levels. None of this was done.
Alternative dispute resolution
Another outcome of the oversight hearing was a substitute amendment on the part of Senator McCain and others that engaged Tucson’s U.S. Center for Environmental Conflict Resolution to appoint a “third-party neutral.” The goal was to assess the chances of success of a structured, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process. The idea would be to belatedly come up with key, consensual elements of the never-produced comprehensive plan that would phase in substantial restoration of natural quiet by 2008.
However, the ADR process failed to reach a consensus and the agencies are preparing to release their own “preferred alternative.”