Tour Operators Program of Safety Celebrates 20 years

Tour Operators Program of Safety Celebrates 20 years

17-Dec-2015 Source: TOPS

The prestigious Tour Operators Program of Safety (TOPS) celebrates 20 years of increased helicopter tour safety in 2016. Founded by a group of competing tour operators with the joint goal of increasing the safety and positive public perception of flight-seeing operations, TOPS is the industry’s first sector-specific safety program and continues to be the only program focused on helicopter tours.

“What we did 20 years ago was revolutionary, and the fact that it continues today, bigger and stronger than its first days, is testament to the value of the program,” says TOPS founding member Elling Halvorson and owner of Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, the country’s largest helicopter flightseeing operator. “We were a group of fierce competitors who recognized an accident in our industry hurt us all. While we may compete in business, safety is no competition. We gain a lot by setting higher safety standards for us all and by sharing our best safety practices.

TOPS members include some of the largest helicopter tour operators in the world. Together these companies operate the bulk of the nation’s flight-seeing hours while also enjoying considerably lower accident and incident rates than the helicopter industry on a whole. Additionally, 25 aircraft manufacturers, insurance providers and industry vendors and professionals support TOPS associate members

“At TOPS, our mission is the safety of our passengers while our goal is zero accidents,” says TOPS Chair Craig Jennison, manager of NorthStar Trekking in Juneau, Alaska. “We work together in a collaborative environment, sharing safety information, supporting each other, and constantly growing the program to help ensure the safest operations for all of our members. Nowhere else in the helicopter industry do you see such collaboration among operators. Other safety accreditation programs are provided by an outside entity. TOPS’ standards are created, updated, strengthened and followed by our members, with every member contributing to how the program grows each year, incorporating their operating knowledge, experience, and best practices, then hiring an outside auditor to assure compliance. That is what sets us apart.

The Program of Safety sets forth guidelines on operational procedures, aircraft equipment, staff training and experience requirements, and other safety-related specifications that go above and beyond FAA Part 135 requirements. Operators must abide by every item listed in the program and undergo annual independent audits to assure continued compliance. In return, members receive safety program support from other members, insight on ways to continue to make their operations safer, noticeable decreases in safety issues, discounts on insurance, exclusive access to tour excursion partnerships in the travel industry, and the prestige of TOPS membership

History in the Making

TOPS began when a group of tour operators met informally in 1993 to discuss a solution to avoidable accidents and public perception of the industry. Following these discussions, Helicopter Association International’s (HAI) Helicopter Tour Operators Committee (HTOC) was formed. Within HTOC discussions continued, concentrating on a program focused on the tour industry’s unique needs and increasing positive public perception. The tour operators, in coordination with several of the standing committees of the HAI, drafted a detailed safety program that was to become the principal guideline for TOPS. This program incorporated the expertise and experience of those who know the industry best: the air tour operators and the manufacturers of the air tour equipment

In 1995, a draft of the prospective TOPS Program of Safety was presented to and well received by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Board (NTSB)

TOPS was incorporated in January 1996 as an independent, non-profit organization, and the Program of Safety was implemented at that time. For the first time, there was an organization dedicated solely to further enhancing the safety of all aspects of helicopter tours.

In celebration of its 20-year landmark, TOPS unveiled a new website and logo this month. TOPS will officially kick off its anniversary year with a special event at Heli-Expo in Louisville, Kentucky, March 1 – 3. TOPS will be exhibiting at Heli-Expo at booth #10631.


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