FAA plans to divvy up to 1,721 flight “allocations” among Grand Canyon air tour operators that incorporate quiet aircraft technologies.

In a Feb. 3 notice in the Federal Register, FAA outlines a plan to use the first six months of 2014 to establish a baseline for dividing the allocations among qualified operators that fly in the restricted Grand Canyon airspace.

The plan comes at the direction of Congress, which in June 2012 approved a measure in a comprehensive highway bill calling on the agency to provide incentives for quiet aircraft technologies. Long sought by air tour operators that have invested in technologies and backed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the measure was part of a compromise on air tour activity over national parks, balancing against proposals to significantly curb the number of operations over Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP).

Operations over GCNP are governed by a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA), which includes two specific corridors – the Dragon and Zuni Point corridors. Currently 44,960 operations are authorized in the Dragon and Zuni Point corridors and 49,011 are authorized elsewhere in the SFRA. Of those, FAA held 49 allocations for the Dragon and Zuni Point corridors and 1,672 allocations for operations in other areas of the SFRA.

FAA plans to divide those allocations “in proportion to the number of [quiet technology] operations that are flown by the respective operators in these areas of the park during the first six months of 2014.” Allocations provided for operations in the Dragon and Zuni Point corridors can be transferred for use in other parts of the SFRA. However, allocations provided for outside those corridors cannot be.

FAA says the issuance is a one-time allocation that can be used for the 2014 air tour season and beyond. But it adds that it will continue working with the National Park Service on other incentives to encourage quiet technology.

The congressional measure permits the incentives as long as they do not increase noise in the park. FAA maintains that neither the corridor nor other allocations will increase noise. The additional corridor allocations represent 0.1% of the total tour allocations authorized. The SFRA allocations outside the corridors represent 3.4% of the total allocations, the agency adds. “Analysis shows that such a small number of QT operations on existing routes will not cumulatively increase noise at the park and will not diminish the substantial restoration of natural quiet,” FAA maintains.