Grand Canyon Encourages Quieter Aircraft with More Tourists

Millions upon millions of people visit the Grand Canyon each and every year, and it’s hard to argue that the most impressive views can be found during Grand Canyon helicopter tours. A new noise reduction policy has recently been implemented to incentivize air tour companies to upgrade their aircraft to be quieter in an effort to make more popular tourist destinations like the Grand Canyon South Rim more relaxing. Not only will these new policies promote a more natural environment for tourists exploring on foot, but it may also help air tour companies attract a wider spectrum of tourists.

This noise reduction policy is being encouraged along the Zuni Point and Dragon corridors of the Grand Canyon, two of the widest, deepest, and most popular parts of the Grand Canyon for airborne tourists. These paths through the canyon are frequented by tourists visiting from Las Vegas, and the flights themselves aren’t visible from the tourism-dense South Rim, but they’re audible enough to bother some visitors.

Most helicopter tours take place between January and March, and that time period alone yields nearly 4,000 trips to the Dragon and Zuni Point corridors, but if the aircraft in question are upgraded to meet these new noise guidelines, they’ll be able to shift their timeframe closer to the summer, leading to an increased volume of potential customers and more revenue for the company.

These new guidelines aren’t a requirement. In fact, it’s completely up to each individual company whether or not to upgrade their vehicles, but the switch to quieter technology is highly encouraged. “They can kind of manage within their own fleet how they want to do it, but it would give companies credit for truly quieter technology,” said Robin Martin, chief of planning and compliance at the Grand Canyon.

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The goal of this new incentive system was outlined in the same 2012 federal transportation bill that required the system’s implementation. The new policy aims to keep at least half of the popular tourist destination noise-free for 75% of any given day. Originally, this was seen as a threat to air tours themselves, but when fees were reduced in January, the new incentive system didn’t seem as threatening.

Alan Stephen, an official with two major air tour companies, spoke at length about how this new policy will benefit air tour companies and Grand Canyon National Park’s natural soundscapes. “We have long believed quiet technology was the right solution to achieving substantial restoration of natural quiet at Grand Canyon. We have invested in converting as we can our fleets of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. New quiet technology helicopters cost about $3 million each. Papillon will need to spend about $12-$15 million annually to make this conversion by the deadline. Better utilization of these helicopters is the most important incentive the federal agencies can implement.”

Have you ever experienced a Grand Canyon helicopter tour? Have you ever been bothered by the sounds of aircraft in the distance while exploring the park? Let us know in the comments!