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Evaluating the Use of Spatiotemporal Aircraft Data for Air Tour Management Planning and Compliance

J. Adam Beeco, Damon Joyce, Sharolyn J. Anderson


Examining visitors’ spatiotemporal movement patterns within parks and protected areas (PPAs) has become an informative methodology for management actions and understanding visitor behavior. This work has given managers and researchers a better understanding of visitor spatial behaviors, spatiotemporal resource impacts, and theoretical and organizing frameworks for approaching this type of research. However, few studies have examined the spatial patterns of air traffic, specifically low-level air tours, above PPAs and the resulting impacts to visitors’ experience and the natural soundscapes. This need is particularly relevant in the U.S. due to legislative mandates that the National Park Service (NPS) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have to manage air tours over NPS units. Further, prior studies have shown how air tours negatively impact both visitors’ experience and the natural soundscapes. Understanding the spatiotemporal patterns of air tours is critical for the managers working with air tour operators and the FAA for planning, ensuring compliance with management decisions, and examining the effects of aircraft noise on PPA resources and the on-the-ground visitors.

Recently enacted laws and regulations across the globe, including the U.S., are requiring all aircraft operating in controlled airspace to equip air traffic tracking technology called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out avionics. ADS-B Out broadcasts an unencrypted and publicly accessible signal that relays latitude, longitude, altitude, and unique identification code. In the U.S., this code can then be cross-referenced to a publicly accessible database with information including the type/model of aircraft and the registered owner. Only a single prior study has examined ADS-B data over NPS units, finding both potential and limitations to this new technology for tracking air tours. This study seeks to expand methodological improvements and ADS-B’s potential to inform management actions by exploring ADS-B data at Haleakalā National Park (HALE). This study explores the use of ADS-B data at HALE for monitoring compliance with spatially explicit conditions within a preexisting agreement established between the park and air tour operators.

The study identified 321 air tours, compared with 454 air tours reported by operators over the same time period. Compliance with the spatially explicit agreement conditions was generally high, though better for lateral offsets than minimum altitude requirements. Overall, this study advances methodological uses of ADS-B logging to track air tours over PPAs and advances knowledge about the potential utility and current limitations of using ADS-B tracking systems for compliance in PPA contexts.

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recreation ecology; noise impacts; air tours; visitor use; spatial analysis

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