Demystifying flying clubs

November 15, 2012 by Craig Fuller

Flying clubs have been around a long time—almost as long as aviation itself. Until recently, they grew almost exclusively through word of mouth. If you were lucky, you’d meet someone who knew someone who belonged to a flying club—and that was how you might happen on to a community of like-minded pilots to help share the costs and joys of aircraft ownership.

It all seemed a little mysterious. How could you connect with a club? What if there wasn’t one in your area? What if you wanted to start your own?

Last night, we began the process of taking the mystery out of flying clubs and making them accessible to many more pilots who want to get more from their flying.

More than 630 pilots signed up to spend their Wednesday evening taking part in a webinar hosted by the Center to Advance the Pilot Community. Participants learned about how to start their own clubs, heard from the president of a Texas flying club that grew from nothing to more than 200 members in its first three years, and got some legal and tax guidance from a leading aviation attorney. Then they asked questions—literally hundreds of them—during a discussion moderated by Adam Smith, who leads the Center.

There were questions about insurance, financing, maintenance, leasing, structure, and more. But most of all, participants wanted the kind of practical, detailed advice they need to take their own interest in flying clubs to the next level.

The session was first of many to be held by the Center to help pilots start, join, and benefit from flying clubs in communities nationwide. It’s still early days, but the strong participation and active engagement of those who took part is more evidence that pilots are excited by the idea of being part of a community where they can share their passion for aviation—and save money and hassles so they can indulge that passion a little more often.

I want to thank everyone who participated in this first event. Your questions and feedback will help us focus our efforts and give you the information you need, whether you want to join a club, expand an existing enterprise, or start something completely new. I know flying clubs have a lot to offer, and I’m excited to be working on new ways to bring those benefits to a wider audience.

I invite you to learn more about how clubs can fit into your flying by visiting our web page at www.aopa.org/flyingclubs. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be bringing you new tools and information that can help you connect with a club in your area or even start a new one of your own. In the meantime lets keep the discussion going and learn from one another. You can take part by joining the AOPA Flying Clubs group on Facebook. See you there.

19 Responses to “Demystifying flying clubs”

  1. Al Wright Says:

    Do you know of any flying clubs in eastern Notyh Carolina?

  2. Tom Haydon Says:

    I have a couple of suggestions in regards to your efforts to promote flying clubs.

    – Provide web page hosting for flying clubs at AOPA.org.

    – Provide a list of email addresses of pilots in the local area where a flying club is based. We would like to send an invitation to join our club

    Thanks for your kind attention – and keep up the good work.

    Tom Haydon
    Skypark Aero Club.

  3. Joe Pilot Says:

    Promoting flying clubs is a no brainer, although it is interesting what is not being said. Whereas 30 years ago the middle class could go out and buy a 172, now owning an airplane is not feasible for most.
    Are folks aware flying clubs is how most GA flying is done in Europe? And now AOPA is recommending the European way? Ironic.
    A couple downsides to flying clubs: vastly different joining fees, some reasonable – $300-500, others require a buy-in of thousands of dollars. And an even darker secret about clubs, you’d think clubs would allow people to fly more, but most pilots in clubs barely fly over the one hour minimum each month. And at that rate, with monthly dues, you might as well rent. Clubs are great if you fly 3+ hrs a month, and AOPA is right, there should be at least 25 members per airplane for the math to work out and not loose money. Now get out and fly!

  4. Stan Comer Says:

    I think AOPA should start a national flying club for members only. Each club location would have a two seat trainer and a four seat Xcountry airplane. The equipment should be standardized. Then a member who gets checked out in the airplanes can go to a club anywhere in the USA and fky a club airplane. Just a thought

  5. James Edwards Says:

    Where can I get information on starting a flying club?

  6. B. Rogers Says:

    The problem with flying clubs is that it is not a one size fits all solution. Each person interested in joining a flying club has to be realistic about their flying. What I mean by this is that they must determine how many hours they plan on flying, and then consider the costs associated with membership with a flying club. Low time flyers will often find that renting is the better solution. Sometimes, the math is in favor of renting vs. joining a flying club. If you don’t fly often, what you’ll end up doing is subsidizing other people’s flying. I am in a flying club where 80% of the members pay their monthly membership dues, but never fly! I thank them for subsidizing my flying, but I’m also curious as to why they are just throwing their money out the window. For the amount of membership dues that some of these people pay, they could have rented better equipment for cheaper.

    The other dark side to flying clubs is the politics that often come up. With people come politics, and everyone wants something at the expense of someone else. People love spending club money because it’s not theirs. And often times these discussions are very heated and turns people off to the idea of a flying club, and they leave.

    The other aspect to flying clubs is maintenance. There could be questionable maintenance being done on the airplane that could result in a member unintentionally flying an unairworthy airplane. If the flying club’s fleet is small, and the flyers are large, when an airplane goes down and maintenance can’t get to the airplane for weeks, you have a grounded airplane that is just wasting the club’s ability to generate revenue, which will lead to financial stress. Many flying clubs are run by inexperienced backed by lack of knowledge members that often don’t do a great job managing the club affairs. Some do, but some don’t.

    As with anything, to those interested in flying clubs, buyer beware. It may sound like a great idea on paper, but in practice, it can be quite a horror show.

  7. Adam Smith Says:

    Al Wright – the AOPA flying club finder tells me Wings of Carolina at Sanford is the furthest east of the 7 clubs in North Carolina – http://wingsofcarolina.org. This happens to be one of 11 clubs on an advisory group that’s been helping AOPA guide the whole initiative. It is a really great club.

    Tom Haydon – Thank you for the suggestions. Both these ideas are on our radar. Two major IT projects are underway that will provide the capability.

    Stan Comer – thanks for the interesting idea. We particularly like the concept of a reciprocal program where being a member of one club would give privileges at all clubs in the network

    James Edwards – http://www.aopa.org/aircraft/articles/2012/121115flying-club-webinar-top-ten.html

  8. Jack Says:

    The problem with clubs is the maintenance, you are not directly in control of it, the club is just like an FBO. Without visibility and supervision into maintenance, you could die.

  9. Dwight Small Says:

    I retired after a great 34 year airline career fllying planes from the Super Constellation to the B747 and MD11. I learned to fly in 1955 while earning 75 cents an hour as a bag boy at a local market. If it were not for that flying club my story would be much different and my career probably would not have involved flying. Thirty-Forty years ago clubs were a big part of the GA landscape so lets do all we can to bring them back and get a few more bag boys into the cockpit.

    Dwight Small, Tucson, AZ
    fr8flyer1@comcast.net
    520.742.0757

  10. Rick Tavan Says:

    Great initiative, AOPA. A variety of styles of flying clubs all over the country might help to contain the cost of aviation. That won’t be consistent because of local factors and those styles themselves. Don’t lose track of the social aspects of flying clubs. Those can be helpful not only for renters but also for owners. Keeping pilots engaged is the best way to reduce dropouts. And let’s find a way for a pilot, renter or owner, to go out of town and rent a plane there without redundant check rides. All the best,

    /Rick

  11. hpux735 Says:

    I’ve rented planes from an FBO before, and I recently joined a club. I have no read on whether my club experience is typical, but joining the club has been a fabulous experience. I think that there is more and communication between club management and members than FBO management and renters. Also, I feel more invested in the operations of the club, which keeps me flying. Our club has a fixed $33/month active member fee, but that seems reasonable to me.

    The club rates have been very competitive. For example, Cessna’s estimates for maintenance costs for the C162 and C172SP are $72 and $123 respectively. Club rates for the same aircraft are $75 and $125. This parity between rental rates and ownership costs has caused me to loose the desire for owning an aircraft for the most part; the only notable exception that it would be nice to own for long cross-country adventures.

    By the way, I think Stan Comer has a great idea. I’ve always wanted to rent a plane while traveling, if for no other reason than to do sightseeing in a new part of the country. I suppose one could also achieve this goal by hiring a local instructor, but that could be a pain.

  12. Brad Koehn Says:

    I love my flying club for both its low price and its social environment. By sharing the fixed costs of airplane ownership we get a variety of planes to fly that’s greater than any of us could afford on our own.

  13. Becca Says:

    My experience is that flying clubs with only leaseback planes are not much better than a rental operation, they just seem like an insurance scheme that allows people to rent out planes and riddled with a lot of drama.

    Flying clubs that own a few of their own planes (especially the work horses like a training plane or a cost efficient cross country plane) seem to do better. The members get the sense of ownership and pride and take better care of planes and make good decisions about maintenance and improvements.

    If aopa wanted to encourage flying clubs maybe they could help out with some kind of friendly loan system or grant process plus legal services for a group of 10+ people to buy a plane and build a club. The start up costs and difficulties are part of what prevents more clubs from getting on their feet.

  14. Barry Jay Says:

    AOPA can help create a nationwide network of flying clubs and ensure their viability by not only sharing best practices but also by providing flying clubs with tools for recruiting, hiring and training ideal flying club personnel. The 80% drop-out rate for flight training students can largely be attributed to the disconnect between the customer experience at local airports and what these same customers experience where they shop, dine and recreate (as the research has shown). If you don”t get the people part right the rest will be much less effective. Yes, you need good aircraft with high dispatch reliability but it’s more than that. AOPA and the flying club initiative will succeed to the extent that it builds a consistently exceptional experience for pilots and their families: helping flying clubs with the best people, processes and products & services at GA airports across the country.

  15. Vernon Lewis Says:

    Been there, done that. Flying clubs are similar to small businesses (management, product, procedures, insurance, accounting, record-keeping, scheduling, communications, banking, problem solving, even rank politics, etc), so they must have good managers. If they hire one, there goes your low flying costs; if they don’t, there goes your smooth operation unless you’re lucky enough to have a wealthy retired airline pilot volunteer his services in exchange for free flying. It would be a bargain.

  16. Ray Taylor Says:

    Greetings,
    My dad and a few others established the “Harrah Flying Club, inc.” in approximately 1954. The year before my birth. Being a flight instructor and my daycare provider I accompanied him on most flights. Most of the original members including my dad have passed on. Now with aviation enthusiast children of my own, and one granddaughter, we are starting to re-establish the “Harrah Flying Club”. An attorney has drawn up LLC papers for the club formation. I would also like to re-establish the club with a not for profit status like the original.

    What recommendations or counsel can you provide?

    Sincerely,
    Ray Taylor, soon to be President, Harrah Flying Club, Harrah, Washington

  17. Rob Waring Says:

    Could you do an article on clubs formed around experimental licensed aircraft?

    rob

  18. Dennis Clarke Says:

    Stan Comer – you’re right on with reciprocal arrangements. One model is the Freedom boat club. They have about 60 locations – mostly in the eastern U.S. here’s their website: http://freedomboatclub.com/locations/43-jacksonville-fl

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