TOPS’s mission is to provide the public with access to scenic areas while in the care of good, safe and professional air tour operators.
TOPS history: In 1993, the need for safety programs specifically geared for the air tour industry became evident. Although helicopter tour operations had a good safety record, the flight-seeing industry was then experiencing growing pains. Accidents that may have been avoided, and media sensationalism that poorly depicted the helicopter tour industry, incorrectly portrayed the tour industry as unconcerned with public safety. Several leading providers of helicopter tours met informally during this time to exchange views on how to improve the situation.
Following discussions within the forum of the Helicopter Association International (HAI), a Helicopter Tour Operators Committee (HTOC) was formed. After several meetings of the HTOC, it was agreed that a program should be developed to serve the special needs of the helicopter tour operators, and to address the public’s concern about helicopter tour safety.
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, TOPS, that was dedicated solely to further enhancing the safety of all aspects of helicopter tours.
The effectiveness of the TOPS Program of Safety is well proven by the statistics gathered since 1996. In a typical year, professional helicopter tour operators in the US fly some 100,000 tour hours, of which about 85,000 hours are flown by TOPS members. TOPS members have a cumulative safety record much better than that of general aviation at large. For example, during 2003, TOPS members experienced 1.13 accidents per 100,000 air tour hours, compared with 9.98 accidents per 100,000 flying hours for the civil helicopter fleet at large.