Are Flying Clubs Really Worthwhile?

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If you're given to semantical flights of fancy, you can build quite a spirited discussion about the difference between cheap and frugal. But leave me out of it. I'm utterly comfortable with my innate cheapness; frugality isn't a trackable target on my radar.

That's why I tilt positively toward the idea of airplane partnerships and flying clubs, which have both popped up in our news coverage recently. Like the considerable majority of certificated, it not necessarily active, pilots, I will never own an airplane myself. Ever. For me personally, it's just too much money tied up in a thing that can't possibly see enough use to justify the expenditure. If I did own an airplane, I'd want something like a late-model Cirrus SR22 or maybe a Mooney Acclaim or Ovation. Figure on a $300,000 value, and it costs maybe $25,000 to $35,000 a year to own and fly such an airplane 100 hours a year. If I pulled down in excess of $200K, maybe. But I don't, so however much I might secretly like to cast off the chains of my skinflintism, I've been dealt a different hand.

I'm hardly alone, which is why I like seeing initiatives that promote partnerships and clubs. It's true that these aren't ideal ownership options for everyone, but they're a worthy alternative to no access at all to flying. One blog poster recently asked if there's any difference between renting from an FBO and a club. In my experience, having done both, there's definitely a difference. But it also depends on the type of club. Some clubs are commercial, for-profit entities that are simply an extension of an FBO or school's rental business. In exchange for a monthly fee or some other arrangement, you get a break on hourly rates and perhaps more liberal booking options. Sometimes, they're not much more than block-time sellers. Such operations have pros and cons. The larger ones may have a wider variety of airplanes to choose from—from trainers to twins, with glass as standard equipment. But the rental rates will be high and they're likely to be managed in a way to limit the ultimate freedom of the commons offered by sole ownership. That can be good and bad. It's good because there's some oversight on who flies the airplanes and when; a little pushback against pilots who think it's okay to launch into a low overcast on 10 hours a year of average flight time. It's bad if you're that pilot.

In my view, true clubs are member owned. Five, a dozen or 30 people pool their resources and buy an airplane or several airplanes appropriate to the membership's needs. Since these entities are non-profit, rental rates are set such that they're near the true cost of operating the airplanes, with some margin built in. There's definite economy of scale here, since fixed costs are divided among many members. If access is reasonable, you get 75 percent of the value of ownership for 10 percent of the cost. But with the pros, come the cons. A club is only as good as its members and given the vagaries of human nature, clubs tend to have a mix of people and personalities. It's axiomatic that some will be impossible, selfish jerks, some will be princes and many you may never even meet. A few you'll wish you never met.

I was in a club in Connecticut for many years, whose membership varied between 25 and 40, with either two or three airplanes. I consider the experience positive enough that I'd join a club again, if I could find one as good. At the time, I was flying about 100 hours personally and instructing another 300 or so. One thing about clubs that's universally true, I think, is that in all of them, a small core of people do most of the serious work to manage the club, a few do a little and most do nothing at all. This is not a bad thing if the people doing the work are competent and conscientious.

Similarly, a small core of members will do more than half the flying, a few will do the rest and a number won't do any at all. They're in the club just to have cheap access to something they never use and for whatever social value accrues from joining a group of people with like interests. You want such members in a club, too, because they subsidize the active pilots, keeping costs down, without burdening access. Sounds cold, but everyone gets what they want. Clubs do offer the opportunity for group events like training, seminars and field trips to factories and FAA facilities. Lots of people thrive on such activities. If I did, I'd be less of a anti-social ingrate, but then again, I'd loathe having anyone describe me as personable.

I don't know if AOPA's new initiative to ignite interest in flying clubs will make much headway or not, but it's on the right track and I'm happy to see it. It adds the additional twist of trying to network clubs together so benefits in one might be transferable to another. Not a bad idea, really. Setting up a club is not easy, but my gut tells me there's potential opportunity at many airports that may just need a little nudge to gel. And for clubs whose vitality is flagging, maybe the network idea can gin things up a little. In a market as depressed as the one we're experiencing now, even one or two clubs where none existed before counts as progress.

Comments (36)

I think it is essential that flying clubs have a CFI on the roster as many people may join because they want to learn to fly. While in college in 2006, I joined a flying club to learn to fly and am still an active member today. Lots of our prospective members have been people interested in primary training, not already certificated. If CFI'd, flying clubs also provide a huge financial advantage specifically to younger people (who may have parents funding the endeavor or, like myself, had college expenses [beer]) interested in learning to fly, something all of GA can benefit from.

Posted by: Jamey Curry | October 18, 2012 10:22 PM    Report this comment

I'm starting to think that the club I'm in is unique, in that we only allow certificated private pilots (or better) to join. No students (or sport pilots) are allowed. I'm sure we're missing out on much opportunity to expand the club with such a requirement, but it also means our aircraft don't take the beatings student pilots often give them.

I'm interested in seeing how the club network works out, though I'm perhaps a little pessimistic that it will actually pan out. Many clubs have evolved their own operating procedures based on their own experiences, and adding in benefits for members in other clubs may not be feasible in many cases. Even so, I think it's something that needs to be explored.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | October 19, 2012 8:01 AM    Report this comment

As a member of a flying club, I'm glad to see emphasis placed on this. I see clubs as being the best of both worlds. You buy into ownership shares of several aircraft and don't necessarily have to deal with the hassles (unless you want to). My club prides itself on being a training club for student pilots with lots of 150s and 172s but also has 182s and an SR-20 for the "serious" travelers. Prices are based on tach time and quite reasonable. Pilots are required to perform a 6 month check with a club CFI to remain current. For the fun flyer like myself, the club has been the perfect way to keep flying on a budget, and also follows one of life's axioms, "you get out of it what you put into it."

Posted by: Brandon Freeman | October 19, 2012 9:29 AM    Report this comment

Flyings clubs can be great, but I'd like to point out that you don't have to invest, or earn, six figures to own an airplane. There are some great values out there, especially (but not only) among 100-series Cessnas. You can buy a very nice VFR airplane for the price of a new -- or even used -- pickup truck, Granted, annual inspections, especially your first with an airplane, can be scary, but the upside is that you have an airplane whenever you want to fly. And you also have equity in the airplane.

On the other hand, if (like Paul Bertorelli, I suspect) you want to fly real-world IFR (in other words, beyond practicing holds and approaches), the price of owning the right airplane for you goes up considerably. Moreover, unless you fly for a living, you're going to spend a considerable amount of time and money achieving and maintaining proficiency. In this case, an alternative to sole ownership may make sense.

Posted by: Jerry Fraser | October 19, 2012 12:28 PM    Report this comment

With 3 kids and another coming I'm not going to buy my own airplane anytime soon. Unless it's a derilict that I can acquire for next to nothing and then spend a decade or more restoring.

In 5-8 years I might be able to afford a flying club membership/partnership though.

Posted by: Andrew Upson | October 19, 2012 12:49 PM    Report this comment

Paul's description of his old flying club, paragraphs 5 and 6, are spot on with my own experience. Despite co-owning an IFR certified C182, I belong to a local flying club for the sheer pleasure of flying a Champ on nice days, from a grass strip 10 minutes away from my home. My club has other airplanes which I rarely use, but which are available at very reasonable rates compared to anything on the rental market.

Posted by: Jean-Francois Reat | October 19, 2012 11:03 PM    Report this comment

Paul...total agreement. This concept of "standardizing" clubs to some degree through some form of affiliation, in my opinion, is a great idea. It will take an organization like AOPA to put something of this nature in place. I owned, operated, and taught in a flying club for 10 years many years ago and it was an excellent way for piots to have a sense of community and fellowship that is otherwise missing in the pilot community. When I first learned to fly back in the 60's, one of the major drawbacks that I encountered was this interaction with other pilots prior to becoming a professional pilot. This aspect of "club flying" is an essential that can really add to a pilot's ongoing enjoyment of the aviation environment.

Posted by: Blaine Banks | October 22, 2012 5:31 AM    Report this comment

Clubs are a way to make very expensive aviation a bit less expensive, but there are other alternatives that might be even better.

The reason Paul's figures come out so high is he is considering very expensive airplanes that are designed for commercial use. He also talks about combined use of 400 hours per year with 100 personal and 300 training others.

If your goal is recreational flying rather than commercial style you should consider Light Sport airplanes or experimental amateur built ones. While these are not practical for commercial aviation they can be wonderful for fun-flying. LSA burn about 5 gph and cost perhaps 1/4 the price of commercial style light planes. Experimentals come in all sizes and shapes but the typical 2 seater will save you a considerable amount compared to 4 or more seat planes. Experimentals also allow you to do your own maintenance and modifications. If you really want to go to extremes (and you are retired and have lots of time) you might consider building your own experimental plane. This gives you years of pleasant building experience that ends in a lot of plane for a lot less money than any factory plane.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | October 22, 2012 5:38 AM    Report this comment

I'll be interested in seeing how the AOPA model develops. The only club in my area has 1-2 more aircraft then the local FBOs, but is more expensive then just renting when you factor in the membership fee, annual dues, club mandated checkrides, and hourly rental. I expect a club to either be cheaper than an FBO or offer something I need to offset the higher price.

Posted by: Richard Norris | October 22, 2012 5:52 AM    Report this comment

I dreamt up the following idea and have posted it elsewhere. It's a bit of a hybrid between the two types of "clubs" Mr. Bertorelli mentions. Let's see what this group thinks:

If I were an airplane broker and/or aviation lawyer, I would canvass the AOPA partnership program looking for a club or shared ownership creation opportunity.

The pitch would be something like:

I am an airplane [broker and/or lawyer] and I am contacting pilots on the AOPA partnership website. My goal is to find geographically grouped individuals willing to form a new club or enter into co-ownership. I will help find the plane, construct the framework of the organization, and provide consultation on an as-needed basis.

Your profile on the website says you are looking for X, willing to spend Y. Is that accurate?

My compensation will come in the form of a ___% commission on the aircraft and a flat fee of $_____ (per member, maybe?)

[side note: another fee-structure idea would be a "menu of services" approach with things like organizing the mechanic for pre-purchase/annual, hangar location/lease negotiation, etc etc.]

If you are interested, the process starts by reviewing my contract and putting "Y" in escrow. If we have "Z" individuals within ____ days willing to participate, we'll begin to move forward. If not, you'll have the option to continue or exit with all of your money.

Posted by: Jim Hausch | October 22, 2012 6:14 AM    Report this comment

I'm surprised that there has no discussion (that I've seen online anyway) of the role that banks and insurance companies have in making club arrangements financially viable. I've been involved in club and partnership arrangements for almost 30 years and access to capital and insurance is almost more important than any other consideration.

Posted by: James Grant | October 22, 2012 6:51 AM    Report this comment

Paul (and not that you asked of course) but anything I see with your name on it is always worth reading. But to your point regarding clubs: I have been offered a very clean low time IFR certified C-172-L nice and cheap (39K) but simply don't fly enough to justify paying all those fixed-cost expense. Here's my notion: I'd buy and own the plane outright and offer two or three other carefully screened non-equity "partners" a 1/3 or 1/4 share in the annual fixed costs (hangar, insurance, annual, etc). Then I would charge all of us NOTHING for per hour dry rate flying (up to, say, 30 hours a year per partner). I'd do the usual owner obligation including the scheduling and maintenance, capital improvements, etc. Each partner would get their own key but I would still do flight scheduling. This seems a sort-of hybrid club/partnership. Has this been done before or is scheme altogether nutty?

Posted by: William Corwin | October 22, 2012 7:16 AM    Report this comment

As noted, flying clubs have their pros and cons and one must do the due diligence to make sure it's right for their needs. I, for one, am happy with straight rental from my FBO. That said, I would like to see the FBO offer incentives such as discounted block time purchases or other "specials" to add value to the rental.

Posted by: James Sanford | October 22, 2012 7:23 AM    Report this comment

Addressing the Corwin question. It's a great idea and I know of numerous ones. The main problem is the premise that you are putting out there about charging NOTHING is not feasible. I have seen numerous "partnerships" disintegrate with this approach. What works best is to have a monthly fee to cover fixed costs and then an hourly fee based on the ongoing costs affiliated with the aircraft. 600 hours on a vacuum pump, an engine overhaul, tires, annual inspections. The problem arises when you have a large disparity of flying being done by the various "partners" but each one pays the same (or nothing) for all the flying that someone else is doing in the aircraft. Typically, what works best is to establish this hourly figure for all the recurring parts replacements and charge that to each partner and that way if someone "uses" the aircraft 70% of the time, then they pay 70% of replacement costs based on the hourly input. This is about the only way to keep the costs fair in terms of variable individual usage of the aircraft.

Posted by: Blaine Banks | October 22, 2012 7:59 AM    Report this comment

"...but is more expensive then just renting when you factor in the membership fee, annual dues, club mandated checkrides, and hourly rental."

Why should club-mandated check-rides be factored in to the cost? Is it so bad that one has to fly with an instructor more often, if it means keeping their skills sharp? Even better if it helps keep insurance costs down.

"Then I would charge all of us NOTHING for per hour dry rate flying (up to, say, 30 hours a year per partner)."

Charging $0 per dry hour isn't sustainable, since it builds in no engine reserve (among others). Even aircraft owners charge themselves an hourly dry rate, because it's the only reasonable way to build in any engine/airframe reserves (unless you don't mind front-loading it all at once; but if you're going to spend the money anyway, why not do it while enjoying the plane).

Posted by: Gary Baluha | October 22, 2012 8:04 AM    Report this comment

The other factor that comes into play is the hourly charge goes into a "reserve fund" that is transferrable to a potential new owner if there is a change in the partners. Another consideration is the insurance companies, normally they will consider a maximum of 4 "partners" in one aircraft, more than 4 and they then start viewing the operation as a "club" versus a "partnership"...club rates are higher than partnership rates.

Posted by: Blaine Banks | October 22, 2012 8:39 AM    Report this comment

I have been associated with flying clubs as a flight instructor and owned 5 or 6 airplanes in partnerships over 40+ years. I have always estimated that the savings is only about 10% compared to renting. The availability of good rental aircraft at FBO's has not been very good since the early 80's so you do usually get a better airplane for your money so score 1 for shared ownerships. However in the current market in Austin Texas I can not even give away my 50% share of a 1963 Comanche to a qualified pilot. AOPA partnership program site is in general low time, low money pilots looking for really new airplanes without any idea of what it costs to own and airplane.

Posted by: Jim Accuntius | October 22, 2012 8:53 AM    Report this comment

I have been a member of Victory Aviation Flying Club for about 10 years. We are based at Butler County (HAO) and the club itself will probably celebrate a 50th anniversary in the next couple of years. We have 5 airplanes including 2 172s, an Archer, Dakota and a fixed gear Saratoga. We have 75 members but rarely do I have difficulty scheduling a plane. All planes have newer paint jobs and interiors. All have Garmin 430s except the trainer 172. Most have updated LED landing lights and all have the new 406 elts. The cost of joining the club and monthly dues is ridiculously low. The current cost of the trainer 172 is (I think) $83/hr wet. The Saratoga is $144. We have a meeting every month but one. The meetings alternate between business and safety meetings. We also have a tour group the travels with planes for probably 9 trips a year including Oshkosh. I am absolutely convinced of the benefits of the flying club but I also realize that we are unique in the flying club world. We have a great group of trustees and officers as well as a membership committed to safe aircraft.

Posted by: Steven Clark | October 22, 2012 9:33 AM    Report this comment

One additional bit of information about Victory planes. All engines and pros are overhauled at TBO.

Posted by: Steven Clark | October 22, 2012 9:36 AM    Report this comment

"true clubs are member owned. ...people pool their resources and buy an airplane or several airplanes appropriate to the membership's needs. Since these entities are non-profit, rental rates are set such that they're near the true cost of operating the airplanes. There's economy of scale here, since fixed costs are divided among many members. ...you get 75 percent of the value of ownership for 10 percent of the cost. But with the pros, come the cons." Paul, as usual, has something useful to bring to the discussion. How about an option that has the positives of clubs without the negatives? Drive down costs using LSA-type aircraft, that lowers the dropout rate, and charges NO hourly fee? Create and manage FRACTIONAL ownership groups at airports. For an initial buy-in, you own a share of a LSA & you pay a monthly fee that covers everything but gas. A "club" that provides EQUITY to members. And assets are professionally managed so members don't have the hassle. Think of it as the next step up from clubs, the 2 working together to provide options. Think of them as a way to entice NEW pilots-people who thought they couldn't afford it. Under $20k + MMF. I don't want to advertise, but options are out there. AOPA likes what we are trying to do. Facebook.com/AviationAccessProject In order to fix what ails us, we need to address the COST.

Posted by: Leonard Assante | October 22, 2012 9:59 AM    Report this comment

My club has considered adding an LSA to the fleet occasionally over the years while I've been a member. There are two problems with this, however. First, the LSA used market is pretty small, so it means either buying new, or at near-new prices (read $100k+). This means we would have to charge rates comparable to a fully-certified Part-23 aircraft, but for an aircraft that can only carry two people. The other problem is that most LSAs are not IFR-certified, so it would be a VFR-only aircraft. Just over half of our members are instrument rated, which means the utility of the plane is effectively reduced for 1/4 of the membership (assuming half of the instrument-rated members are current).

5gph vs 10gph for the Archers we own can't make up for the overhead of the purchase cost.

There is also a third issue, though one that isn't insurmountable. That issue is the difference in handling of an LSA, vs the Part-23 aircraft we own. One reason the club owns only PA-28 series aircraft is their commonality of handling.

Unfortunately, LSAs don't lower the cost of aircraft operation or ownership as much as it seems they should on paper.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | October 22, 2012 10:18 AM    Report this comment

I don't think you need to make $200K a year to own an IFR capable airplane. A 180-HP 172 with decent avionics is affordable on a lot less money; I own a decent IFR 182 and don't make that kind of money. (Though I have the advantage of being single, no kids, no alimony . . . ) I incur $5000/year fixed costs (hangar, insurance, annual) and at less than 100 hours/year, it's not really cost effective, but when I owned a 50% share, my taking the plane on a 3 week vacation wasn't feasible. A club would obviously be out of the question for that. While I do enjoy flying, I own the plane because I don't like driving more than 40 miles or so, not for the joy of taking to the sky. A $400K airplane is of course not possible on my salary, but a $60K Cessna isn't a financial strain--I just live in a cheaper house and drive a Geo Metro to make up for it . . . and don't save for kids' college funds :-)

Posted by: David Chuljian | October 22, 2012 11:17 AM    Report this comment

"The reason Paul's figures come out so high is he is considering very expensive airplanes that are designed for commercial use. "

Not really, Paul. An SR22 or Ovation aren't commercial airplanes, but high capability personal airplanes. In partnerships, I have owned lesser airplanes than these and been happy. But it still costs $7000 to $12,000 a year.

I like to have an airplane capable of regional travel. The opposite end is the Cub I'm in now. No travel there. I sort of don't even consider it airplane ownership.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 22, 2012 12:09 PM    Report this comment

Great thread. As a long-standing board member of a ~60 person 6 aircraft equity-based club in Minnesota, I tend to agree with Paul. We try very hard to assess members during an initiation process to avoid the "bad apples." Our primary goal is to share aircraft that might otherwise be too expensive without being able to share the costs. We do have 6 part-time instructors in the club, and tend to get many move-up members that way. One thing we offer than many FBOs do not are two high-performance retracts, in a pair of Cessna Centurions. As Paul mentioned, it takes effort to lead an effective organization of this size. Take a look at www.cloud7.org for more information on how we operate. Over the years we've shared our membership manual with many other organizations attempting to create similar clubs.

John

Posted by: John O'Shaughnessy | October 22, 2012 12:31 PM    Report this comment

I am a member of a small (9 members) club in NH, which owns a 1973 PA28-180 Challenger. We have a great group of guys and it's as close to the "ownership experience" as you can get. I'd say that 5 or so make up the bulk of the flying time, but better economic conditions would certainly increase that.

I estimate my share to be $2700 or so per year being spent to fly/fuel/maintain/tiedown/insure the plane for the 20 hrs I've been personally averaging, which calculates to $140/hr. This is pretty comparable to renting from FBO's here close to Boston, but most FBO's would never let me take their aircraft on extended trips (like to Oshkosh - done that). Sometimes I take a chance, drive by the airport and if it's there, I logon to our calendar (we use Google calendar which can accessed easily from iPhone/iPad) and I'm good to go.

We've averaged a total of 125 or so total hours per year and in the 10 years I've been a member, I've had exactly 2 scheduling conflicts with a member, one of which turned into flying safety for his IFR currency, which I had never done.

I agree with AOPA in trying to promote the club model. I think the aviation community could benefit from following the boating/motorcycle model where you buy (or share) the vehicle, learn to operate it, and share the expenses, of which would benefit the aviation economy as a whole. As your mother probably told you, share your toys and the fun will be had by all.

Posted by: Glenn Bergeron | October 22, 2012 12:47 PM    Report this comment

I guess I was extraordinarily lucky when it came to partners. True, I never had the most hours in a month, and not always for lack of effort. However, over 6 years we never had a partner stiff us for dues, commit illegal acts, or deny their use of the aircraft. It was annoying that local flight instructors charged us a $27 per hour surcharge on recurrent training because we weren’t also renting an aircraft from them. No way could a student have taken ab-initio training in our aircraft, as we spent a medium-sized fortune on insurance even with no students. In the end, I tallied up the cost of my personal ownership, and our PA-12 cost me almost four times as much per hour as renting a Cessna 152 would have cost. But then, no other aircraft for under $400,000 is as spacious inside, and in eastern Kansas, tailwheel rentals simply did not exist at any price in the 1990s. I have no regrets.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | October 22, 2012 12:54 PM    Report this comment

I'd say I have the best deal of all and a model for other clubs. We have 1,000 members, 60 planes (everything from a Citabria to a Malibu)based between four area airports. Something for everyone.

Posted by: Pamela Griffen | October 22, 2012 1:13 PM    Report this comment

We have had bad apples and members who have stiffed us for dues but we have bylaws that allow us wide discretion in remedial training or even removal from the club. Our monthly dues are $60 and we have a one hour minimum flight (use it or lose) to encourage proficiency. The cost for the 172 is $86 per hour which means my cost per month if I do not fly is $146. Annual cost is $1,752 which includes hangar, insurance, engine fund and 12 hours of flight. I cannot hangar and insure the smallest of planes for that amount in this area (greater Cincinnati). As a member of the club you are an actual owner of the 5 aircraft. Members are required to fly with a club instructor once a year in the highest horsepower plane they fly. One last. The initiation fee to join is a one time $650 for the buy in. Sorry to harp on this but I think we could have the best club in the country.

Posted by: Steven Clark | October 22, 2012 1:19 PM    Report this comment

I'm baffled why fractional ownership does not get serious consideration. Maybe because nobody had bothered to make it available to the grassroots sector? Cirrus is quite a jump for this. While I heartily support the Club concept from AOPA, it doesn't take much read the above and see there are many different flavors of club.

The industry needs to settle on the definition, first of all.

In general, most existing clubs are non-equity programs by definition. You pay a fee, monthly dues, hourly rates. This is glorified rental, and that is ok. We need this. Non-profit, volunteer-driven, somebody had to go buy the planes, etc.

Equity partnership programs are a form of fractional ownership. Managed by a third party kept the peace, maintaining consistency, excellence in management and mx, etc.

In our initiative called the Aviation Access Project, we have designed this to do what Paul is suggesting above. In fact, it is the best of all worlds, not the both. With our on-the-field Flight Center facility, we can also work in the Pilot Community feature the AOPA also is striving for. They are aware of our pioneering development in this area, and we are looking forward to collaboration and cooperation. Fractional ownership AND flying clubs. We can enjoy both, side by side, both with access to a pilot country club environment.

The Aviation Access Project facebook page gives us hope.

Posted by: Rick Matthews | October 22, 2012 3:36 PM    Report this comment

As the current treasurer and one of 6 club CFIs in Paul's old flying club in Connecticut (www.oxfordflyingclub.com), I echo the sentiments expressed throughout this thread. We currently have 4 planes (a C172P, two PA28-181s and a C182RG) and 45 active members. We limit students to the Skyhawk and one of the Archers and charge a monthly minimum. The finances work out in favor of renting at the local FBO if you fly less than 25 hours per year but the difference in quality of what’s available usually tilts the average pilot to the flying club even when flying less than that amount. As is the case with most organizations, 90% of the work is done by 10% of the members but we, as a club, compensate the most active members with flying time for their services. While we’ve certainly missed Paul’s active professionalism within our club (I joined after he left), I’ve noted in my several years of tenure that for every good person that moves on, we are blessed with another that steps up to the plate and contributes significantly to the club.

Posted by: Burt Stevens | October 22, 2012 3:47 PM    Report this comment

A lot of flying clubs have friction with their airport operators. Our club prevented that problem by building its own airport. Yes, we're 58 years old, but it still could be done. We enjoy having members who don't fly and they enjoy coming to the airport and attending our picnics. The annual dues are minimal to encourage that. Hangar sites are assigned to members in good standing. I keep a Starduster Too and Skylane in my own hangar on the assigned club hangar site. Our Lenoir Aviation Club in North Carolina owns the 3200-foot, lighted runway and the land for hangar sites. The club-owned C-172 and Champ round out the picture. Something to think about.

Posted by: Rankin Whittington | October 22, 2012 6:27 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I agree that clubs help with flying costs, but I would put more emphasis on the social aspect than you do. There are two reasons: first, most people are social animals, and flying can get lonely - but a flying club is an easy way to meet flying friends; second - maybe even more important - there's the "spouse effect" whereby, if you have a genuine social element to the club, the less-interested spouse may find the club itself attractive. Yacht clubs figured this out years ago: even basic yacht clubs tend to be far more social places than flying clubs do. Social activities can be BBQs, monthly dinner get-togethers, whatever - it depends a lot on where the club is located. As a generalization, I've found that glider clubs do a better job of this than airplane-based clubs, and hang glider/paraglider clubs are better still at it - not sure why, but it really does make flying a much more engaging and satisfying passtime than "just" having access to an aircraft.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | October 23, 2012 10:27 AM    Report this comment

“Then I would charge all of us NOTHING for per hour dry rate flying (up to, say, 30 hours a year per partner)”

I’ve often thought along those same lines.

I see quite a few airplanes at my local field participating in the S.T.A.R (sit there and rot) program. Paint fading, dry rotting tires, have never seen them move from the tie down, and the engines never get turned over.

I’ve talked amongst the hanger brethren and made the suggestion that I would offer to pay the tie down fee, annual (I have a co-worker AP/IA that does owner assist for $300-$500 plus parts) and would help with an over hall, if needed. But, no “buy in” per se. I would pay for my own fuel and misc. repairs (basic consumables; brake pads/bulbs/fluids/small hardware items).

They looked at me as if I had six arms. “Too good of a deal” for me they say, and not enough for the owner…….as the airplane sits, rotting away with weeds growing up around it.

So, I’m thinking about changing tactics. Offering my “services” for $40hr for keeping the engine well lubricated and control cables, wheels, tires and other moving parts in working order and in general flying condition.

Posted by: Robert Ore | October 23, 2012 12:32 PM    Report this comment

Robert, I hear you on this one! It isn't only on the field, in my area it includes 'hanger queens' that haven't moved in months or years - except for a possible annual. Ask the owner about splitting the cost to fly the airplane and I get a duh or blank stare. I just don't understand the logic.

Posted by: Richard Norris | October 23, 2012 1:02 PM    Report this comment

Paul's comments and insights are spot on. I have thought about buying a plane on a few occasions and decided not to because it did not make financial sense for me. I could also read my wife's mind, "here he goes again keeping the economy going". I have been a member of the flying club in CT that Paul mentioned since 1984, which makes me the longest continuous member in the club. Even though there have been a few members that have complained that I did not fly often enough at times, hopefully they have learned to appreciate me subsidizing the club. Those of us that have known Paul's impersonable behavior realize that he is fun to hang out with. He was part of the small core that did the majority of the work in the club. Probably so he could complain about me not doing enough.

Posted by: Geoff Green | October 23, 2012 1:35 PM    Report this comment

There are so many great comments by so many people. For the past few years, I have been involved with a club with a Pietenpol Aircamper. Rates are ridiculously low. $10/hour dry. Running 87 octane car gas is a bonus. As a club, we are learning as we go. It's a working club.. so the members are expected to pitch in an hour of work around the hangar and airplane for every hour flown. We are not an FBO. But some members were behaving like it was.. so we came up with the hour of work for every hour of flight. Honor system. We attract all kinds of people to the club.. especially those that want to learn how to fly. I learned in the Piet. Martha Lunken gave me my checkride in it. When she asked how I thought I did... I told her "I'd pass me" She chuckled. We also have a glider and that part of the club is just getting going. We also intend to us it as a trainer and just took it up a few weeks ago. It's going to be lots of fun.. especially with all the characters that get involved. Can't wait till next summer. Clubs are the way to go in so many ways already described by others. I think I am a better pilot because of the mentoring I get from those that fly because they have to. Living the dream on a beer salary.

Posted by: Andre Abreu | October 23, 2012 9:36 PM    Report this comment

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