The Tour Operators Program of Safety (TOPS) announces a new membership structure that includes all types of air tour operators. Although the TOPS’ standard of safety will be maintained, TOPS membership is available to Part 135 operators who are able to demonstrate an equivalent level of safety in areas where they do not meet the full standard.
TOPS is also creating a level of membership for Part 91 tour operators who are ready to commit to flying to a higher standard. TOPS will offer those operators a structured mentorship program that will help them to create a TOPS Operations Manual based on applicable Part 135 rules, select elements of the full TOPS Standard of Safety, and safety management system (SMS) methodologies.
“There are safety issues that affect us all, and it’s important that the tour operator community works together to address them,” said Gordy Cox, chairman of the TOPS board and director of operations for Redding Air Service. “Through the Rising Tide Program, our Part 135 operators will work with smaller operators to improve safety, training, operations, and maintenance.”
“The FAA regulations are designed to set a minimum standard for safe operations. At TOPS, we believe we have an obligation to do better than that,” said Stan Rose, executive director of TOPS. “The Rising Tide Program came about because our Part 135 members realized they needed to share that philosophy with the Part 91 tour operator community. And because a rising tide lifts all boats, we believe it’s worthwhile to improve overall safety in air tour operations.”
By including both Part 135 and Part 91 operators, TOPS will also provide a career ladder for its members’ pilots and maintenance technicians, giving TOPS members a pipeline of properly trained and experienced staff during an increasingly tight labor market. TOPS current Part 135 members include some of the world’s largest air tour operators, including Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, Coastal Helicopters, NorthStar Helicopters, Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, Sundance Helicopters, and TEMSCO Helicopters.