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Papillon Safety

two mechanics push a papillon helicopter into a hangar for routine maintenance

At Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters, safety is our top priority. Papillon Airways, Inc. and its subsidiaries are fully certified by the Tour Operators Program of Safety (TOPS). TOPS’ industry standards ensure safety and reliability throughout the air tour industry. TOPS certified operators agree to operate their airlines to standards that far exceed those set forth by the FAA. These standards are upheld and enforced by regular internal audits and annual external audits by independent industrial safety auditors.

In addition to strict operating standards, TOPS members provide a wealth of safety training to all employees involved in any portion of a visitor’s flight. This includes additional safety training for management, flight crew, and ground support staff.

Our aircraft are also required to carry additional emergency communications equipment beyond what is required by the FAA. All Papillon aircraft are equipped with an advanced radio stack connecting the pilot to a dedicated company radio network. With this network, the aircraft is in constant contact with our highly trained staff tracking the flight for its entire duration.

TOPS’s mission is to provide the public with access to scenic areas while in the care of quality, safe, and professional air tour operators. When flying with a TOPS-certified carrier, guests can be assured that they are touring with some of the safest and most highly trained professionals in the industry.

TOPS Missions & History

The increase in air tourism in the early 90s also brought concerns about its safety, and several leading helicopter tour providers were determined to put the public’s worries to rest.

Following discussions within the forum of the Helicopter Association International (HAI), the Helicopter Tour Operators Committee (HTOC) was formed. Tour operators then drafted a detailed safety program that would become the initial 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.

TOPS was incorporated in January 1996 as an independent, non-profit organization and the Program of Safety was then implemented. This marked the first time that an organization was solely dedicated 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, 85% of all hours flown by helicopter tour operators are done so by TOPS members.

TOPS members also 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.

TOPS Qualifications

TOPS members put safety as their number one priority, with the mission of making helicopter sightseeing tours among the safest types of flight today. Operators approved by TOPS have committed to a higher standard of safety, sharing of safety knowledge, and self-policing of those standards.

To become a member of TOPS, a company must have a sightseeing base as a whole or significant part of their operations. Any potential member must pass an initial safety audit and then also pass an annual safety audit. All current members are required to pass a yearly safety audit as well. Higher safety standards and yearly audits have had a significant impact on the helicopter tour industry. Statistics show a reduction in accidents and safety concerns industrywide

Qualifications for TOPS are strict and held at a higher level than even FAA requirements and each member of the applying organization is held to these standards. Every employed staff member understands that the purpose of this program is to promote safety and that the responsibility rests upon the shoulders of each individual operator.

The FAA and NTSB consider members of TOPS to be higher authorities regarding safety. When you participate in aerial sightseeing like a Grand Canyon helicopter tour, always insist upon flying with a TOPS-certified company – like Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters.

For more information on TOPS visit