New restrictions on commercial helicopter tours over the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are being proposed in hopes of limiting noise and visual impacts of air tours on the visitor experience.

Two commercial helicopter companies out of Tennessee currently offer air tours over the Smokies, with an average of more than 900 flights per year.

The national park currently has no regulations on how low the helicopters can fly, what routes they can take or the time of day they can fly. The park also has no mechanism to ban flights on certain days for special events, nor are there any training or education requirements for commercial air tour operators.

The proposed Air Tour Management Plan would address these issues, including restrictions on altitude, routes, time of day, no-fly periods and training requirements for operators.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of 24 national parks in the process of implementing new rules for commercial air tours — but it is the only park east of the Mississippi on the list. The ability of national parks to rein in commercial air tours was authorized by Congress under the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000, largely due to concern over noise that disrupts visitors’ enjoyment of the national parks.

Public input in the proposed Air Tour Management Plan is being accepted through Oct. 3.

A virtual public meeting to explain the rules will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 16. The meeting will be live streamed at youtu.be/BIIt8gzNVVA.

To learn more about the plan, go to parkplanning.nps.gov/GreatSmokyMountainsATMP. To submit public comments online or read the proposed rules, click on “open for comment” on the left hand side of the page.

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