Badger Bulletin

Victory for a Quiet Glacier

Badger Bulletin

Victory for a Quiet Glacier

Glacier Heli Tours near Glacier National Park on May 5, 2016. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Glacier National Park Releases New Air Tour Management Plan

Will phase out commercial air tours

East Glacier, MT — In late September, we scored a big victory for natural sounds and recreational solitude when Glacier National Park announced it will phase out all commercial air tours by Dec. 31, 2029, in accordance with its new air tour management plan.

 Along with our partners in the Quiet! Glacier Coalition, we advocated for years for an end to these noisy overflights. Commercial air tours, while undoubtedly breathtaking for the few people who experience them, shatter the natural sounds and serenity of the park that so many visitors come to enjoy. Scientific research has demonstrated that noise from low-flying helicopters and airplanes also disturbs wildlife, drowns out sounds they need to hear to survive, and can displace sensitive species if disturbed too frequently.

The new air tour management plan has been several years in the making. The initial draft left open the possibility that these flights could continue indefinitely so long as the operator remained in business, a possibility we fought hard to prevent.

While we would have preferred to see the scenic flights ended immediately, which the Park had the authority to do, the phase out does provide operators time to plan for how to transition this part of their business, as well as for people who want to see Glacier’s peaks up close from the air.

From now until the end of 2029, Glacier will allow up to a maximum of 144 flights annually, split amongst Homestead Helicopters, Minuteman Aviation, and Red Eagle Aviation, with Red Eagle authorized to offer by far and away the most flights based on historic use. Flights cannot be transferred to another company so the number flights authorized annually will decline by a company’s share if that company ceases operations. All air tours will be restricted to the Going-to-the-Sun road corridor west of the Continental Divide and cannot fly over Logan Pass.

Thank you to everyone who participated at various stages in this process. In conversations with Park staff, we heard how much your comments and efforts made a difference. Now we can all look forward to enjoying a quieter Glacier for years to come!

 Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance will continue to monitor the implementation of the plan as well as continue our work to protect Glacier’s natural soundscape from other sources of human-caused noise pollution.


For decades, noise generated by scenic air tours has been a leading complaint from park visitors. In response, Glacier National Park’s General Management Plan, written in 1999, called for an end to these air tours in order to protect the visitor experience, natural soundscape, wilderness character, and sensitive wildlife species. Because the Federal Aviation Administration has authority for Glacier’s airspace, the Park was unable to unilaterally end these flights.

The FAA however, has long been reluctant to reduce or eliminate the commercial flights over Glacier and the dozens of other national parks that have struggled with this issue. In 2000, Congress passed the National Parks Air Tour Management Act, which directs the FAA and National Park Service to work together to develop air tour management plans for any park with commercial air tours. Rather than achieve greater cooperation in managing air tours to protect park resources and the visitor experience, the bureaucratic standoff between the FAA, who wanted to protect the business interests of air tour operators, and the NPS, which is responsible for protecting park resources, continued.

After years of delay without a single air tour management plan being developed, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued to finally compel action. In 2020, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C. ordered the FAA and NPS to adopt air tour management plans that limited the number of noisy air tours at 23 different national parks, including Glacier, within the next two years.

Glacier National Park’s new plan is one of the first to be finalized and the only one so far to completely eliminate future air tours.

Read the final Air Tour Management Plan.
Read our comments on the draft plan.

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