A very strongly worded statement came from Senator Ron Wyden last week as reported by a Bulletin reporter Keith Chu. Wyden admonished Leading Edge Aviation for wanting to take people on helicopter tours over Crater Lake National Park. Wyden’s quote: Oregonians are not going to allow our state’s identity to be so thoroughly diminished for so little potential gain.
Perhaps Wyden spoke too quickly because we agree with Travis Warthen, vice president of Leading Edge Aviation who told us: We are disappointed that Senator Wyden has chosen to take such a hard-line on this issue without knowing the facts behind our proposal or anything about our Oregon based company. We offered to provide this information to him when our application first become public knowledge and struggle to understand the opposition to this when several other activities that produce more noise are allowed within the park every day.
Amazing that the senator would project that Oregon’s reputation could be damaged by a few helicopter rides……….all the while ignoring other negative factors including a legislature that couldn’t balance our budget without huge business tax increases or the fact we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
Oregon Wild, an Oregon environmental group, has taken a very public stand against Leading Edge’s proposal to establish tours around Crater Lake. The group is suggesting that a wilderness area be created surrounding the lake even though there has been a lodge, restaurant and other accommodations at the edge of the lake for years.
In fact the historic 71-room Crater Lake Lodge originally opened in 1915 and is located on the edge of the caldera overlooking Crater Lake. Commercial progress has continued over the years at Crater Lake as the lodge had an extensive renovation in 1995.
Leading Edge’s proposal has a lot of positive aspects that could benefit the park which would get a portion of the gross revenue generated from these tours. In addition the recreation area would have a government approved aircraft available for things such as search and rescue and firefighting. Currently the closest helicopter is nearly an hour away.
Leading Edge Aviation operates the Bell 206 series aircraft for all its commercial operations. The 206 was first flown in 1966 and since then has been the most widely utilized helicopter in its class. This aircraft has the lowest fatality rate per flight hour of any aircraft ever produced.
Leading Edge’s presence would allow the park to basically have an “exclusive use” helicopter without having the ongoing costs of that specific contract greatly enhancing the safety of one of our national treasures.
Leading Edge said they purposely designed the flights to stay over the current rim drive, which has traffic from the over 400,000 visitors each year. At 1,000 feet above the ground their helicopters produce around 67 decibels, which is equivalent to a normal conversation that is between 60 and 70 decibels.
The helicopter will be operated at least 1,000 feet above the ground at all times, at this altitude the noise level of the helicopter is similar to that of a normal conversation and slightly quieter than TV audio or a vacuum cleaner.
There are already numerous activities that have an impact on the area including the park-run two hour bus tour, commercial bus tours in 26+ passenger buses, park-run boat tours of the lake (the only boat traffic allowed), and the 400,000+ people a year who drive their cars, motor homes and motorcycles around the lake.
Leading Edge Aviation tried to explain to us the process for approving their flight proposal but seem to be typically stymied by bureaucratic red tape and political maneuvers. It appears no one really knows what the process is although the Federal Aviation Administration is the lead organization and is suppose to work in conjunction with the Nation Park Service to develop an air tour management plan (ATMP) that will set the guidelines of operation to include type of aircraft, altitude, route and frequency of the tours.
The development of an air tour management plan would include a mandated environmental impact study and an opportunity for public comment.
Since Crater Lake has never had an ATMP developed there is a provision for an operator to receive an interim operating authority to conduct these tours while this plan is being developed.
There is no reason why Leading Edge should not be granted that interim operating authorization. PHA