There are almost as many pilots with lapsed certificates in the U.S. as there are active pilots, and AOPA sees its new flying club initiative as a way to bring some of them back into the fold. At an information session at AOPA Summit in Palm Springs on Friday, Adam Smith, head of AOPA's new Center to Advance the Pilot Community, said there are about 500,000 pilots with lapsed certificates in the U.S. He said the formation of a flying club in their area is sometimes the push they need to get back in the cockpit. "Wherever there is a community in aviation there is a 'stickiness' that keeps people sticking around," Smith said. To that end, AOPA hopes to encourage the creation of more than 400 flying clubs in the next five years.
AOPA is developing materials to help groups start flying clubs. Those materials will cover legal and financial requirements along with tips on marketing and promoting the club. AOPA staff are currently digesting the data from a study that polled members of about 15 percent of existing clubs to see what they liked and didn't like. Most members were overwhelmingly supportive of their clubs but significant numbers complained that they weren't having enough fun. Study author Mark Benson said the most successful clubs combine business and pleasure by hosting club events in which members can learn new skills or tour facilities like the local tower or TRACON. "They engage pilots in safety and social activities," he said. "The safety activities foster community." The full study will be available online soon, and in the meantime AOPA has created a Facebook group for the flying club finder. There will also be a webinar on the effort Nov. 14.