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Agreement Reached with Tour Operators!

People from all over the world are drawn to the Sedona area to experience its natural beauty. Visitors and residents love to explore the many hiking trails in the Coconino National Forest and are particularly impressed with the Wilderness Areas located in the forest. One key part of that experience is the opportunity for quiet exploration of the area. As the Forest Service has noted – “natural quiet is a value inherent to National Forest lands.”

As Sedona grew in tourism so did helicopter tours of the area. Even is 1998 the impact of helicopter tours was pronounced. The Forest Service noted: “Aircraft noise impacts on the Sedona area’s National Forest lands long ago surpassed the benign level, particularly when helicopter tour operations were added in the late 1980s.”

KSB has been active in trying to ameliorate these noise issues for many years. In 2000, at the request of the Sedona Airport Authority, KSB formed a community committee to investigate what might be done. This became the Sedona (Citizens) Noise Abatement Committee (SNAC). These efforts led to the enactment of a Noise Abatement Protocol at the airport which sought voluntary adherence to FAA and airport recommendations to fly at least 2000 feet above ground level when conducting tours in the Sedona area.

In 2015 the issue of noise re-surfaced. Disturbances of wilderness and forest hiking areas increased. Pilots also refused to abide by the FAA Advisory and were conducting tours very near renowned rock formations and heritage sites. Moreover, the airport Master Plan projected that the number of helicopter flights would double to 20,000 in 15 years.

As a result, KSB approached the City of Sedona and formed a Citizen’s Engagement Group to address this issue. This group has been working with the city, county (owner of the airport), airport authority, Forest Service, and others to explore ways to improve this situation.

After five years of diligent work, an agreement has been reached to reduce helicopter noise in Sedona. Led by Mike Yarbrough, KSB was instrumental in reaching a voluntary agreement with the two local tour operators, Guidance Air and Sedona Air Tours.  The agreement establishes voluntary “No-Fly Zones” and minimum altitudes. Both of these restrictions will result in less noise pollution for both residents and visitors. You can click on the map above to pull up a full depiction of the agreement.

When Mike began working on how to limit helicopter noise, he quickly learned that only the FAA has jurisdiction over airspace. Since it was highly unlikely that the FAA would act, KSB along with Jennifer Wesselhoff from the Chamber of Commerce and Sedona City Manager Justin Clifton began negotiations with tour operators. Others who participated in negotiations included Mayor Sandy Moriarty, City Council members, Yavapai County, Representative Tom O’Halleran’s office, Airport Management, and of course the tour operators.

Their collaborative efforts paid off with this historic voluntary agreement, one of the first of its kind in the country. You can read more about this agreement at (SedonaAirNoise.com) on the Sedona Chamber of Commerce website.

But KSB wants to do more. We want to ensure that the voluntary agreement is never forgotten. Because existing federal law limits the options of local authorities to control air traffic noise through local regulation, the voluntary agreement was seen as a viable near-term alternative.  Going forward, more work needs to be done in the area of federal legislation.

A known health hazard, noise pollution has been indisputably linked to hearing loss. More recently, medical researchers are now reporting linkages to heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. Hawaii, New York, and other states and local jurisdictions are leading the effort to minimize air pollution – but it’s a struggle. The Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for regulating air traffic and they have shown no interest in the problem of noise pollution as a health hazard. It is likely that it will require the force of law to urge the FAA to act on complaints of noise. To further that effort, Congressman Ed Case of Hawaii introduced H.R.389 – the Safe and Quiet Skies Act of 2021. In order to preserve the natural beauty of our Red Rock surroundings, KSB will be following the progress of that bill as it winds its way through the government.

Feel free to call KSB at 928-282-4938 for more information on KSB’s involvement with the issue of airport noise in the Sedona area.

If you experience excessive airport noise or believe that a tour operator has violated the voluntary agreement, you can report this to the Sedona Oak-Creek Airport Authority at: https://sedonaairport.org/noise-survey