Flying magazine for pilots flying airplanes and helicopters in the Southwest
SW Aviator Magazine Aviation Magazine - Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah
General aviation flight magazine
current past airport classified events links contact
SW Aviator Feb/Mar 2001
SW Aviator Magazine is available in print free at FBOs and aviation-related businesses throughout the Southwest or by subscription.
- - - - - -
Airshows, Fly-ins, Seminars
2001 Aviation Events Calendar
The web's most comprehensive database of Southwest area aviation events.
- - - - - -
Site of the Minute
Featured Site:
A continuosly changing collection of links to our favorite aviation related web sites.
- - - - - -
Used Aircraft For Sale
Search by:

Or enter a keword:

Post a FREE Classified Ad
- - - - - -


By Marisa Fay

What comes to mind when you think about visiting Big Bend National Park or the Grand Canyon? For me it’s hiking among the wildflowers, searching for elusive wildlife, and breathing crisp, clean air. Nobody questions the value of protecting the landscape, air quality, and wildlife of the National Parks. But what about the sound of wind sneaking through the spruce trees, cool mountain streams racing down hillsides, or ravens squawking away about whatever ravens squawk about? These experiences, too, enhance the overall experience at America’s protected parklands.

The National Park Service (NPS) is raising awareness of soundscapes, the sounds of nature that provide the backdrop for those beautiful panoramas and the solitude enjoyed by thousands every day. Pilots are familiar with the ongoing controversy surrounding National Park overflights — most notably in the Grand Canyon area. The chief complaint fueling the overflight debate is soundscape disturbance. Most legislation, both in place and proposed, primarily affects commercial tour operations. However, general aviation pilots are requested to make some small allowances in an effort to protect these special places and our privilege to fly over them.

AIM 7-4-6, “Flights Over Charted U.S. Wildlife Refuges, Parks, and Forest Service Areas” reads, in part:
Pilots are requested to maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet above the surface of the following: National Parks, Monuments, Seashores, Lakeshores, Recreation Areas and Scenic Riverways administered by the National Park Service, National Wildlife Refuges, Big Game Refuges, Game Ranges and Wildlife Ranges administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Wilderness and Primitive areas administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

FAA Advisory Circular AC91-36 defines the surface of a National Park area as: the highest terrain within 2,000 feet laterally of the route of flight, or the upper-most rim of a canyon or valley. Simply stated, find the highest ground on your flight path and add 2,000 feet to your cruising altitude.

What Can You Do?
1. Plan your flight route to avoid noise sensitive areas.
2. Fly over high ambient noise areas such as highways (this provides a safety benefit, too!).
3. Avoid overflying rivers and trails, as they tend to be full of rafters, hikers, fisherman, etc.
4. Fly downwind of noise sensitive areas.
5. Fly as high as is practical, maintaining 2000 feet above and one mile horizontal separation from the highest terrain along your route.
6. Conduct your runup with the aircraft pointed TOWARDS noise sensitive areas.
7. Minimize time spent near the ground at high power settings. Use Vx rather than Vy for climbs.
8. Reduce takeoff power as soon as it is safe to do so.
9. Avoid repetitive flight patterns and high power maneuvering.
10. Cruise at the low RPM and power settings (this also saves fuel!).
11. Maintain altitude as long as possible; use short-field landing technique and don’t “drag it in.”

To the flatlander pilot accustomed to single-digit visibility, the FAA’s 2,000-foot request sounds indeed restrictive. However, given the Southwest’s wide open spaces and 100-mile vistas, one quickly realizes the spectacular views are not compromised by a couple thousand feet AGL. Most of us consider 2000 feet a short runway. This same distance, measured vertically, hardly seems limiting.

Some might think you can’t coax a Skyhawk or Cherokee high enough to overfly some Parks and stay in the good graces of the Park Service and the FAA. Untrue! My company, Parkwest Air Tours, organizes group flying tours, which include scenic and legal flights over the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Yosemite, and even Glacier National Parks. The key is to study your charts, making sure you clearly discern Park boundaries and terrain. Take time to refresh yourself on mountain flying techniques, and revisit your aircraft performance charts for high density altitude environments, if appropriate. As an extra measure of security, plot some waypoints defining safe and conscientious routes to follow using your GPS.

According to a NPS newsletter, most Park Managers judge aircraft as the greatest interference with soundscape enjoyment. Certainly there are many culprits of soundscape disturbance — thumping car stereos, whining snowmobiles, and chortling tour buses to name a few. One thing is sure in this endless debate: the Parks are indeed special, so it is incumbent upon each of us to minimize noise in and above the National Parks. So let’s do each other a favor and respect this “request” while it’s still merely a request.

Marisa Fay, together with her husband Collin, have operated Parkwest Air Tours since 1999. The tours allow pilots the freedom of experiencing new destinations and flight environments with the comfort and camaraderie of a group air safari. Whether it’s flying into Mexico for the first time or a desire to get the cockpit view of the Grand Canyon, Parkwest offers several alternatives to safely and scenically enjoy the National Parks. For more information about “Flying Quietly” or to participate in a self-fly National Park tour, contact Marisa at, or see For information regarding aviation matters within the National Parks, contact Cliff Chetwin, Regional Aviation Manager, at (303) 969-2657, or by email at

Click here to return to the beginning of this article.
The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publications and the staff neither assume any responsibility for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising fom it
SW Aviator Magazine • 3909 Central NE • Albuquerque, NM 87108
Phone: 505.256.7031 • Fax: 505.256.3172 • e-mail:
©2001 Southwest Regional Publishing, Inc.