Aerial tour groups not allowed to hover over Puna lava flow anymore

Aerial tour groups not allowed to hover over Puna lava flow anymore

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Puna lava flow is becoming big business for Big Island tour companies, but Hawaii County Civil Defense officials say tour groups were getting too close to the flow and to each other.

Working with the FAA, civil defense has implemented new air space restrictions above the flow.

"Right now we're taking what steps we feel is appropriate to ensure the safety going forward," says Director Darryl Oliveira.

Choppers and planes were allowed to hover right over the flow as long the aircraft stayed above 500 feet. Monday, new rules mandate the aircraft maintain at least 4,000 feet and stay outside a two-mile buffer zone.

The flow is not accessible or visible from the ground, so tourists hoping to get an up-close glimpse were booking aerial tours.

"This is not new," says Oliveira, "It's the same type of regulations and procedures that were implemented with Kalapana as well."

Kalapana, also in the Puna District, was partially swallowed by lava in the late 1980's and early 1990's.

While getting pictures of an area facing destruction may seem insensitive, others say, pictures provide memories during historic moments.

The flow has picked up steam since Sunday and sparked another brush fire.  It is now contained but burned almost 300 acres north of Ka'ohe Homesteads. Fire crews are monitoring the area for flare ups and will do an aerial survey in the morning.

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