Grand Canyon is universally revered as a great natural wonder. But, since the mid-1960’s, the use of helicopters for air tourism has substantially diminished the quality of the Grand Canyon experience.

The primary aviation impact is Noise produced by loud helicopter air tour operators. Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) is a huge place, and the aviation impacts happen in many different locations. There three principal areas of impact are: air tours in the GCNP core area (the tour routes anchored at the GCNP Airport); air tours in the west end of Grand Canyon (anchored near the Skywalk area); and overflight airtours (mostly departing out of Boulder City and Las Vegas). This aiREFORM page focuses on impacts based out of the Grand Canyon National Park Airport.

Operators collect millions in high-priced air tour fees each year. It is lucrative for Papillon, Maverick, and a couple other operators, but their profit comes at a great cost to other park visitors: it is destroying one of the canyon’s greatest qualities, its Natural Quiet. The Air Tour operators pay a minimal fee to the National Park Service. Their takeoffs and landings from the public airport at Tusayan are controlled by FAA air traffic controllers.

For decades, NPS and many concerned citizens have worked to resolve this noise problem. Regrettably, their efforts have been undermined by a long history of intervention by political figures.

KGCN Grand Canyon National Park Airport
(859 acres) Tusayan, AZ

Four Nearby Instrument Airports:
[40G] 18 S ; [KFLG] 54 SE ; [KKNB] 66 N ;
[KPGA] 67 NE ;
(ave. distance: 51 nm)

Total Based Aircraft: 38
(4 single-props, 4 multi-props)
(30 helicopters)
Operations & ATC:
(ave. 274 ops/day … with 318,622 enplanements in 2012)
14hr FAA towerFAA staffing as of 9/24/11: 9
FAA compiles ATADS data for this facility. Airport operations in 2012 were UP 1% vs. 2007 operations, and DOWN 49% from the peak year (1996).

FlightAware.com FlightStats.com

Airport Funding:
Four-year average AIP funding: $131,826 per year. Last AIP was Grant Sequence #25: $90,000 for “Wildlife Hazard Assessments”


One interesting implication of this graph is that air tour operations at Grand Canyon actually INCREASED after the 9/11 attacks. It has been noted by some that, in the wake of the attacks, more vacations were spent closer to home, including National Park visits.
A Better Way to Enjoy Grand Canyon:

…Enjoy Grand Canyon the way Teddy Roosevelt would – on the ground, in the quiet:

NPS has a webpage about backcountry trails. Midway down the webpage is a good list of links for all the different Grand Canyon hikes/trails.

BirdandHike.com is an excellent website with maps, photos and hike descriptions in Grand Canyon. Here is a link to the Hermit Trail page. Be sure to view some of the other trail pages.

When you go to see the Grand Canyon, well, GO TO THE GRAND CANYON! See it directly, away from crowds, at remote points beyond the noise of car traffic. The National Park Service went to a lot of trouble to manage the visitor experience, and they set up a free bus service to the viewpoints. It works really well. You ride along, you get out where you want, and you enjoy peace and quiet while in awe of the spectacular views.

If you want to do something more active, hike down into the canyon, at least a few minutes below the rim. The solitude magnifies the experience. For very active people, a hike all the way to Phantom Ranch and back will be an experience you will always treasure. Overnight stays can be arranged at Phantom Ranch, too.

Please do not spend hundreds of your dollars for a helicopter thrill ride. If you are not in awe of this place via a hike or a view from the rim, and if you MUST see it from the air, do so via the online videos, or go see the movie at the IMAX theater. The movie will give you the feeling of floating over the spectacular landscape, without impacting others, and while you sit comfortably and quietly (much better than in a helicopter). And if you still want that thrill ride, check with your local airport and buy a ride near your home … so you will not be destroying the solitude that makes Grand Canyon such an extraordinary place.


Scrollable aerial view at bing.com. Click here to open a new window with a FullView Image.

1987: PubLaw 100-91

1998: 154 f 3d 455 – Grand Canyon Air Tour Association v. FAA.

2002: 298 f 3d 97 – U.S. Air Tour Association v. FAA.

2003: GCN Airport Master Plan:

Executive Summary
Ch.3, Aviation Demand Forecast
Ch.6, Capitol Improvement Plan

August 2008: GCNP Special Flight Rules EIS, progress report #2

February 2011: GCN Special Flight Rules Area;
color maps … Maps for four alternatives

Green Book

3/19/2012: USA Today article, quoting David Uberuaga; FAA delays and sidetracking.