The latest news concerning air traffic regulations at the Grand Canyon should bring smiles to the faces of tourists. At long last it seems that peace and quiet will receive the protection they are due.
Not long ago that prospect was in doubt. Though Congress last summer called for "substantial restoration of the natural quiet and experience of the park," the Federal Aviation Administration seemed to miss the message.The congressional measure prohibited all flights below the canyon rim and required the Interior Department to recommend some popular spots atop the canyon as no-flight zones. Officials at Interior responded commendably, suggesting that flights should be prohibited below 14,500 feet in several zones that comprise 45 percent of Grand Canyon National Park, including popular hiking and backpacking areas.
But then the FAA stepped in, monkey wrench in hand. Technically, it was empowered to make changes only for safety reasons, but it began to stretch that authority - perhaps with the interests of the multi-million-dollar air-tour industry in mind. Instead of agreeing to new restrictions, FAA officials actually proposed new flight corridors above the canyon.
Thankfully, the FAA has corrected its course. It seems that pressure from Southwestern politicians affected thinking at the agency. The FAA now basically endorses Interior's original plan - and has even broadened one flight-free zone over a famous overlook.
Yes, the arrangement harms helicopter services, which have grown wealthy taking passengers into the canyon. But fixed-wing tour services should be able to live with the new rules, which permit low-level flights in some areas of the park.
The new rules serve safety and serenity. And visitors and hikers at one of the world's premier natural wonders will be able to enjoy its grandeur without being annoyed by the buzzing of aircraft.