The Federal Aviation Administration and Mount Rainier National Park have identified four alternatives for managing air tours over the park, ranging from no flights to allowing up to 114 flights a year.
The release of the alternatives Tuesday is part of the process by federal aviation officials and the National Park Service to develop an air-tour management plan for Mount Rainier.
Five operators currently have authorization to provide tours over and within a half-mile of the park boundary. Since January 2003, the companies have been allowed to conduct a maximum combined total of 114 tours per year. Park officials said operations have been below that level in recent years.
Vashon Island Air and Classic Helicopter Corp., both based at Boeing Field in Seattle, are allowed 74 and 32 flights, respectively. Island Air Inc. of Friday Harbor and Rite Bros. Aviation Inc. of Port Angeles are allowed three flights, and Wings of Wenatchee is allowed two flights.
Last April and May, the agencies received more than 800 comments regarding air tours at the park and used them to help develop the four draft alternatives now being evaluated. The public is invited to comment on the alternatives.
The four draft alternatives are:
■ Eliminating air tours entirely.
■ Capping flights by fixed-wing planes and helicopters at 114 a year, following two loop routes around the upper mountain.
■ Limiting flights to 55 a year along the existing counter-clockwise route from Puget Sound and requiring a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet above ground level by four- to six-seat single-engine planes and helicopters.
■ Allowing up to 114 flights a year, but no more than four a day Mondays-Thursdays, over the Nisqually-Longmire-Stevens Canyon corridor and along state Route 123. This alternative would include time restrictions for when fixed-wing and helicopter flights could occur and varying minimum altitudes.
Federal officials hope to finalize a plan by the end of the year.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 firstname.lastname@example.org