TOPS Membership Spotlight – Coastal Helicopters. A Legacy of Safety.

Coastal Helicopters started in 1988 as a utility and industrial support operation but has expanded operations significantly over the years. Today they conduct air tours to some of the most picturesque and awe-inspiring landscapes this planet has to offer with signature tours into the Juneau ice fields and a dog-sled experience on the Herbert Glacier. The tour operation consists of seven AS350 helicopters with another six machines (2 x AS350B2s, 2 x H125s, and 2 x 206B) reserved for on-demand, contract and charter work.

Safety has always been at the forefront for Coastal Helicopters, which is something that their customers value also. “As our tour operation continued to grow we received an increasing number of inquiries about our safety program. We worked with Alaska Air Carriers Association and the Medallion Foundation of Alaska to build our safety foundations” reflects Mike Wilson, General Manager. “In the late ’90s Coastal became active within HAI’s Helicopter Tour Operators Committee (HTOC) where we worked through the young industry challenges. It was about this 4me we began to participate in some of the Tour Operators Program of Safety (TOPS) forums also”, says Mike. “As an operator who believed in safety best practices, we chose to voluntarily incorporate many of the TOPS standards into our operations”.

Across this same period, Coastal Helicopters were going through the process of becoming a Medallion Shield holder and had built an active safety program that was shaping into a fully-fledged SMS program. Coastal’s business continued to evolve. Come 2018 helicopter air tours represented more than half of all operations and across the 2019 season (May-Sept), Coastal flew 23,000 visitors on their helicopter tours! It was at that point when Coastal made the decision to become a full TOPS member.

“Given our long-time membership of the HTOC, as well as our familiarity and alignment with the much of the TOPS program, this was a very easy transition for us to make,” says Mr. Wilson. “TOPS assigned us a mentor who helped us with a gap analysis of our operation against the program standards. This gave us a clear focus of what to work through across the next few months as we prepared for our initial TOPS audit”.

“The Audit was non-intrusive and a great experience for us says Mike. The auditor reviewed our documentation, and made a thorough observation of our operations, interviewing both employees and customers, without any disrupting operations.”

It will be no surprise that Coastal Helicopters passed their TOPS audit “without findings”, however, there were a few suggestions made from a continuous improvement perspective. “We even got recognized ourselves for some best practices, so the feedback goes in both directions” Mike exclaimed.

“Coastal Helicopters is proud to be a TOPS member and it’s a great fit for our business. We take pride in providing safe and enjoyable tour products to visitors of Juneau and making sure we provide a safe and healthy environment for our employees. We enjoy being part of an organization that collaborates on safety and encourages its members to strive for excellence in their safety. Being involved with TOPS enables us to network with other companies of a similar mindset, to share learning and to become safer together”.