‘We have 40 years of complaints’: Group files lawsuit against FAA

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald A Paradise Helicopters flight takes off Friday from the Hilo International Airport.

A lawsuit filed by a Big Island group seeking to limit helicopter traffic over the island will go before the U.S. Court of Appeals in November.

The Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono — HICoP for short — will submit oral arguments in a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration Nov. 1.

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The lawsuit seeks an injunction for the FAA to implement the Air Tour Management Plan over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, something both the FAA and the National Park Service has failed to do for 18 years despite Congressional legislation, said Bob Ernst, founding board member of HICoP.

“You can look back, we have 40 years of complaints about helicopter noise on the island,” Ernst said. “We tried the administrative, tried legislative, but we got nothing.”

The Air Tour Management Plan was signed into law in 2000 and regulates air traffic above national parks in order to “mitigate or prevent the significant adverse impacts, if any, of commercial air tour operations upon the natural and cultural resources, visitor experiences, and tribal lands.”

Ernst said the National Parks Service has failed to develop an Air Tour Management Plan, despite widespread support among residents, the county council, and many members of the state legislature. Ernst also said Hawaii’s Congressional delegation has failed to address the issue.

Ernst said the Big Island should take an example from Long Island in New York, which saw a nearly 300 percent decline in helicopter tours after noise complaints. Instead, he said, the county has acted in favor of helicopter tour operators, lifting no-fly restrictions over the Kilauea lava flow earlier this year.

“They’re already suffering from lava and then they get that put on top of them,” Ernst said. “The people who can make a difference here are the ones who have done nothing,”

If the court rules in HICoP’s favor, Ernst said he hopes the court will demand quick action: Implementation of an Air Tour Management Plan within a year, Ernst said, with the FAA making monthly updates to the court.

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While Ernst said a Management Plan for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will not solve all helicopter-noise related problems on the island, he explained that the park sees the most helicopter overflights out of all national parks in the country, with more than 16,000 reported in 2017. If those are curbed, flights over residential areas will likely decrease dramatically.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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