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More Grand Canyon Overflights Allowed

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More Grand Canyon Overflights Allowed

More Grand Canyon Overflights Allowed

Photo by Laurel Morales

Tourists wait to board a helicopter at Grand Canyon Airport for a tour of the national park.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Congress cleared the way for more helicopter and airplane tours over Grand Canyon National Park in a late addition to Friday’s massive transportation bill. The move has left the National Park Service and conservationists reeling.

Arizona and Nevada lawmakers thwarted efforts by the National Park Service to reduce noise at the canyon. The Park Service was set to release its plan for tougher noise standards later this month. The agency had issued a draft plan in February that asked for no flights over two-thirds of the park for 75 percent of each day.

The bill passed by Congress maintains the status quo -- giving planes and helicopters more room to fly.

The Grand Canyon Trust’s Roger Clark and other conservationists have been working on a compromise with the Federal Aviation Administration and tour companies for many years.

"We’re just appalled that this is how our elected officials have treated a huge investment of public resources, taxpayer dollars and public participation over years and years of time, to just completely undermine that in order to pay back a campaign contribution," Clark said.

Republican Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl were not available for comment but said in a statement their plan would save jobs compared to what the National Park Service had in mind.

In the draft plan the National Park Service had actually raised the number of flights allowed but restricted the routes. It also required operators to replace noisy helicopters and planes with a quieter technology.

Laurel Morales was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2011 to 2020.