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Volume 24, Number 51a
December 18, 2017
 
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Passengers Hit The Slides In Power Outage (Updated)
 
Russ Niles
 
 

Power was fully restored to Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport early Monday but it will likely take a day for the airport to recover from the unprecedented electrical failure. Fires apparently took out both the main and backup power supplies resulting in more than 1,000 cancellations and stranding tens of thousands of passengers at Atlanta and airports around the world. Airlines were reportedly using emergency exit slides to deplane passengers stuck on the ramp at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Sunday. The travel industry website eTurboNews reported the extreme measure about five hours into the emerging crisis but did not cite a source. The lights went out just about 1 p.m. and some power was restored later in the afternoon but the airport was crippled for almost 12 hours.

By early evening, Sunday, FlightAware was showing arrivals and departures at the airport with arrival delays of 55 minutes and departure delays of 87 minutes. The FAA said air traffic control was operating normally but lack of computers and other equipment in the terminal was keeping aircraft at the gates. International flights were being diverted because Customs and Border Protection was unable to process passengers. After five hours, police arrived to keep tabs on the deteriorating situation.  

 
 
 
Boeing Good, Airbus Bad
 
Paul Bertorelli
 

If, as Samuel Johnson is purported to have said, patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, perhaps the mercantilist parallel in the age of global commerce is a faded bumper sticker once popular around Seattle: If it’s not a Boeing, I’m not going.

That, in part, seems to be animating the current tawdry mud fight between Boeing, Bombardier, Airbus and Delta, with the skirmish lines being drawn in the stuffy bureaucracy of the World Trade Organization. Obscured by the war of the PR departments is that this is really little more than moneyed legal teams striving for the high notes in identifying each others’ kettles as mere pots.

Arriving in my inbox this week was an analysis from the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy/lobbying group for transparency in policies related to the managed travel industry. It excoriated Delta Air Lines for its purchase of 100 new Airbus A320neos by pulling—what else—the patriotism card. Quoting Commerce department estimates, this buy will supposedly cost some 65,000 American jobs. (Never mind that most A320s for the North American market are built in Mobile, Alabama, not far from Continental’s engine factory.) BTC also dinged Delta—fairly, I’ll admit—for advertising and promotion heavy on commitment to American commerce while it was busy buying—horrors!—European airliners.

This skillet has been simmering awhile but came to a boil earlier this year when Boeing challenged Delta’s purchase of Bombardier CS100 single-aisle jets, claiming the airline was getting such a good deal that Bombardier had to be dumping into the U.S. market. The U.S. Department of Commerce agreed and slapped a 300 percent tariff on the Delta buy, effectively killing the deal if not Bombardier itself. Retaliation is the stuff of trade spats and it didn’t take Canada long: Last week, it cancelled a $6.5 billion order for Boeing F/A-18 aircraft. It will buy used versions from Australia instead. In the meantime, Airbus stepped up and acquired a no-cash majority position in the CSeries program that will allow Bombardier to leverage Airbus’s global heft in marketing and supply-chain economics. Smart move, Boeing.

Now the case goes off to the International Trade Commission, which will determine if Boeing’s claims of potential damage to the U.S. industry are valid. Core to the argument is government subsidies, which Boeing claims Bombardier got from the Canadian and Quebec governments when the CSeries program ran into trouble. Brazil has filed a World Trade Organization claim on this as well. The pot-kettle silliness arises from the fact that both Boeing and Embraer would have us believe they’re utterly unspoiled by the taint of government payments, laboring as they do in the remorseless hard-scrabble of western capitalism.

Of course, more than a third of Boeing’s $94.5 billion revenues come from government defense contracts, so there is that. And Good Jobs First reports that Boeing has been an aggressive seeker of government subsidies in the form of loan guarantees, tax breaks and bond financing. In South Carolina, for example, it negotiated what could be as much as $900 million in property tax abatements for a new factory there.

And in Seattle, when the state and city were worried about Boeing exporting jobs in 2013, the company was given an $8.7 billion tax break, the single largest that any state has offered in the U.S. The company repaid the community by cutting more than 12,000 jobs, or 15 percent of the workforce. The legislature is busy crafting a law to get some of that money back.

The point is this: If you’re looking for moral bedrock here, there is none. It’s folly to apply white hat/black hat reasoning or to force the discussion into always-buy-American ideology. The reality is that in the global marketplace, aerospace giants are financed, subsidized and sustained by government money in some form and it’s naïve to think otherwise. It’s just a fact of business life so you’re left to spin it toward European subsidies being socialism run amuck and U.S. subsidies as just good ole ‘Merican capitalism.

Further, Boeing and Airbus have both inked orders for airplanes selling below production cost. They make their money in sustained production programs. Not being privy to the details of Delta’s deal with Airbus, we can only guess if it was animated by spite or standard bottom-line thinking. But if businesses are shamed into higher-cost decisions for patriotic optics, they are by definition making themselves less competitive. This is equally true if a local government views a tax break as a promissory note for a full-employment program. If a company can’t trim workforce to accommodate productivity gains, it will become uncompetitive.

So the CSeries ITC case is just a bunch of noise to see whose lawyers can pull the wool over the commission’s eyes more effectively. The WTO will eventually get involved, I’m sure. The “buy American” argument strikes me as impossibly simple-minded in an industry that’s as globalized as aerospace. Why is it better to preserve jobs in Seattle than in Mobile? More than half of the CSeries components are U.S. sourced, so if those companies don’t get the business, will Boeing buy components for a type of airliner it doesn’t even build?

The quaint view of competition is that it has to do with the best products at the best prices and the great leveler of consumer demand will declare the winner. But competition is multifaceted, bridging into politics, the courts and manipulating public opinion. In my view, that’s Boeing’s top game here. It has decided to invest heavily in its cash-cow 737 series to the exclusion of smaller aircraft like the CS100. So rather than compete with a like product, it will sue the competition. (Nothing new about this. The Wright brothers started it with their protracted suits against Glenn Curtiss.)

Naturally, Boeing has its investors to consider and they ought to be happy indeed. Just this year, its stock price has soared from $153 to $296. Boeing alone accounts for more than 25 percent of the Dow’s average rise this year. With that kind of market cap ($175 billion), you’d think they could afford to fund a piddly 100-seat airliner project. But they probably look on that class of airplane the same way Cessna looked at the Skycatcher.

First Flight Day

Having mentioned the Wright brothers above, I'd be remiss in not noting that today is the 114th anniversary of the age of powered flight. The weather on the Outer Banks of North Carolina is remarkably similar this morning: 36 degrees, but a light breeze rather than the gale that lifted Orville Wright 120 feet on the first recorded powered flight, a mere three feet less than the wingspan of Boeing 737. Perhaps due to subsidies, an A320 is six feet shorter.

Flying the New Rotax 915 Searey
 
Paul Bertorelli
 
 

Progressive Aerodyne is in the final stage of testing the new Rotax 915 in the Searey amphibious aircraft. AVweb's Paul Bertorelli visited the factory and took a test flight with the new engine.

Aerion Partners With Lockheed
 
Geoff Rapoport
 
 

Aerion Corporation, promoters of the AS2 12-seat, supersonic business jet concept, have partnered with Lockheed Martin to explore development and production feasibility for the project. “Following our initial review of Aerion’s aerodynamic technology, our conclusion is that the Aerion AS2 concept warrants the further investment of our time and resources,” says Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. “We are committed to remaining on the cutting edge of aerospace technology and are excited to examine the contribution we might make to working with Aerion on making aviation history.”

Lockheed seems to be taking it slow with its new partner. “Aerion and Lockheed Martin announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) today to define a formal and gated process to explore the feasibility of a joint development of the world’s first supersonic business jet, the Aerion AS2,” said the companies in a joint press release. Neither financial terms nor any specific commitments have been made available. Lockheed is a public company and is required to file notices with the Securities and Exchange Commission when entering into a definitive material agreement, and evidently determined none was necessary in this case.

The Aerion AS2 concept would cruise at Mach 1.4 over water, and is designed to operate in the low supersonic range without producing a boom audible on the ground, which Aerion hopes will influence U.S. policymakers to remove the restriction on supersonic flight in U.S. airspace.

Passengers Freed Themselves From Crash Plane
 
Russ Niles
 
 

After their plane crashed in the wilderness of northern Saskatchewan passengers aboard a West Wind Aviation ATR 42 spent about a half hour freeing themselves from the wreckage as local police and volunteers mustered a rescue effort. The aircraft carrying 22 passengers and three crew took off from Fond du Lac, a fly-in-only First Nations settlement of about 900, about 6 p.m. last Wednesday and crashed less than a mile from the airport. No one was killed and only a few passengers were seriously hurt but many were trapped in the twisted wreckage and those who were able to free themselves couldn’t open the emergency exit. "I said 'You guys, don't panic. We have to help each other,'" passenger Arson Fern told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Fern, whose disabled son was pinned in the cabin, and three other relatively uninjured passengers reached the rear emergency exit, the only accessible door. Using whatever they could find as pry bars the four of them took about 30 minutes to wrench open the exit, which incorporates an airstair. Then they helped passengers to the door where they “fell out of the aircraft, no energy.” First responders and volunteers from the community arrived to evacuate the injured and secure the aircraft, which did not catch fire.

Fly SAM STC Approved
Engine Start For That's All Brother
 
Russ Niles
 
 

A piece of aviation history roared to life for the first time in a decade last week in an important milestone toward first flight. Crews at Basler Turbo Conversions in Oshkosh started the No. 1 engine in That’s All Brother, the C-47 that led 800 other aircraft in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. The plan is to fly the thoroughly restored warhorse to France for a flyby on the 75th anniversary of the epic battle in 2019. “That’s kind of why the rush is on and why we’re doing all of this in the dead of winter in Wisconsin,” Keegan Chetwynd, curator of the Commemorative Air Force, told The Associated Press. The engine start revealed a hydraulic leak that will be fixed before another prop is turned.

The aircraft was discovered by an Air Force researcher in Basler’s boneyard, where it was destined to be converted to a BT-67, a turboprop version of the DC-3 that Basler sells worldwide. After he positively identified the aircraft as the one that led the invasion and dropped the first paratroopers on the beaches, the CAF launched a fundraising campaign that earned $380,000 in a month. To date, about 22,000 man-hours have been spent bringing the aircraft back from the scrap heap. First flight is planned for early in 2018 and the aircraft is expected to be used by the CAF in airshows and other outreach throughout the year. In 2019 it will retrace its flight path over the beach. The aircraft finished out the war in a combat role and went through 16 civilian owners before Basler bought it.

Lycoming - Loyalty Program - More Discounts. Less Downtime.
Drone Has No Control Surfaces
 
Russ Niles
 
 

BAE Systems and the University of Manchester have flown a stealthy drone that has no movable control surfaces and therefore does not change shape at all in flight. The MAGMA drone uses blown air to change aerodynamics and allow three-axes control. The most obvious benefit from the innovation is that there is no deflection of control surfaces to reflect radar but there may be some advantages to the flying barn doors that most aircraft represent to radar. The new system is apparently a lot simpler than the collection of mechanical devices that now manipulate airflow around flying surfaces.

The system uses bleed air to change the physics of the air moving over the wings and stabilizers and does it in two ways. Wing circulation control blows supersonic streams of engine air at the trailing edge of the wing to change the flow of air. Thrust vectoring adds the other element of control. BAE says aircraft using its technology will be cheaper to build and maintain and be safer and easier to fly. “These trials are an important step forward in our efforts to explore adaptable airframes,” said project leader Bill Crowther. “What we are seeking to do through this program is truly groundbreaking.”

Electronics International 'Aviation Alert! Short video on how EI saved this pilot's life
Pentagon Office Investigates UFOs
 
Russ Niles
 
 

A shadowy office deep in the Pentagon that investigates unexplained encounters by military aircraft with flying objects continues to operate even though its mandate was officially ended five years ago, according to The New York Times. The Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification program was a pet project of retired Nevada Sen. Harry Reid and spent $22 million a year looking into sightings of things by American aircrews that don’t behave like other aircraft. The office released a video taken from a Navy F/A-18 head up display of an oval object about 100 miles off the coast of California in 2004. The object appears to accelerate at a high rate as the fighter and his wingman move closer.

The office’s mandate isn’t specifically to chase down extraterrestrials and an AVweb reader suggests its real purpose is to be on the lookout for unknown aircraft and drones from foreign powers. Regardless of its true purpose, the office’s funding was ended by the Department of Defense but it seemed to keep going with staffers who fit in the investigations while doing their other work at the Pentagon. Luis Elizondo, a military intelligence official who ran the program from its inception, quit in October, complaining about a lack of resources and excessive secrecy. He told the Times he was replaced but declined to name his successor.

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Fairbanks Pilot Faces Possible Jail Time
 
Geoff Rapoport
 
 

The pilot of a Ryan Navion has been criminally indicted by a federal jury in Alaska in relation to the crash of a Ryan Navion that killed one person and injured him and two others in 2014. The pilot, Forest Kirst, 60, has been charged with piloting an aircraft without a valid airmen’s certificate and two counts of obstructing an NTSB investigation. If convicted, the US Attorney for the District of Alaska says Kirst faces up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The charges stem from an accident in Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range.

The pilot’s continually shifting pre-accident narrative drew special attention from the NTSB’s accident investigators. According to the NSTB report, “the pilot initially reported to first responders that he had encountered a severe downdraft while approaching the high mountain pass, which caused the airplane to lose altitude.” The NTSB concluded that meteorological conditions at the time of the accident did not suggest a likelihood of severe downdrafts, though the passengers did report a dropping sensation immediately prior to the crash. Two weeks after the accident, the pilot blamed loss of control on a front seat passenger collapsing onto the controls as a result of motion sickness drugs. The backseat passengers were allegedly unresponsive at this time. “None of the three passengers recalled this, and the front seat passenger was found with his seatbelt and shoulder harness on when first responders arrived on scene,” said accident investigators. Two months after the accident, the pilot wrote to investigators to say that a propeller blade had separated in flight, contrary to his post-accident interview. After exhaustive analysis, the NTSB concluded that the propeller blade had broken during impact with terrain.

The US Attorney alleges that Kirst has been seen flying since his license was subject to emergency revocation following the accident—the second federal charge. The NTSB report made news when it was first published by citing lack of FAA oversight as a factor in the accident given Kirst’s prior record of accidents, incidents, and checkride failures. 

 
Discover the Exciting World of Today's Homebuilt Aircraft! Take to the Air with a Subscription to 'Kitplanes' Magazine and Receive the Annual Homebuilt Buyers Guide as a Gift
Picture of the Week
 
 
Mark Patterson flies to some pretty spectacular places and takes some equally spectacular photos. Seal Beach, near Kodiak, Alaska filled the bill for this one. Very nice.

See all submissions

Short Final
 

I was that stage of my instrument training where I was struggling to keep the shiny side up while monitoring radios, tuning navaids, and looking at approach charts.  My instructor and I were shooting a Localizer approach to 17R at David Wayne Hooks airport in Houston.  It was during the winter and already dark.  Thankfully, there wasn't much happening on the control tower frequency.

Me: Hooks tower, Cessna 31C is 10 miles north for a practice Localizer 17R approach.

Tower: Roger 31C, report passing Flika

I was overloaded; trimming for the descent, trying to keep the little line centered, watching my altitude, and everything else that was new to me and I blew right through the intersection. Hooks has radar so the tower controller knew where I was.

Tower: 31C, have you passed Flika?

Me: Sorry, yes.  Now 4 DME.

Tower: 31C, in that case, disregard passing Flika.  Cleared to land 17R or for the option.

To his credit, there wasn't a hint of frustration or sarcasm in his voice.  I called him later to thank him for his graciousness to a fledgling IFR student.


 

 

 

Kelly Dickens

 
Meet the AVweb Team
 

AVweb is the world's premier independent aviation news resource, online since 1995. Our reporting, features, and newsletters are brought to you by:

Publisher
Tom Bliss

Editor-at-Large
Paul Bertorelli

Editor-in-Chief
Russ Niles

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Geoff Rapoport

Contributors
Rick Durden
Kevin Lane-Cummings
Paul Berge
Larry Anglisano

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Karen Lund

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Flying Clubs: Keeping Them Viable
 
Rick Durden
 
 

It almost invariably starts out simply. A half dozen or so pilots who are connected in some fashion—work, school, neighborhood, FBO customers—get to talking, and complaining, about their desire to fly more and the barriers to doing so. Most often the barrier is cost, sometimes it’s difficulty scheduling at the local flight school, others it’s simply a lack of airplanes to rent on the only convenient airport. As one grouses about the condition of the Warrior she rented last week and another complains that the flight school won’t let him rent an airplane so he can take a weeklong trip with his family, someone else peers into his coffee cup and says, “Why don’t we set up a flying club and run it the way we want?”

If at least half of those present are willing to do more than just run their mouths about the poor state of general aviation, the chances are that the group can form a flying club that can overcome the barriers to flight they’d just identified. The question is how to keep the club viable so that it attracts and maintains a healthy level of membership for financial well-being and is just plain fun. To find out, we spoke with officers and members of a number of clubs and looked back at the experience we’ve had in clubs we’ve been in over the years.

The Entity and Airplane to Pilot Ratio

Flying clubs vary between those that are operated as a for-profit corporation or LLC with the members being stockholders—and responsible for selling their stock when they leave—and those that are nonprofit organizations—501(c)(3) or (c)(4) were the two types we observed—where the members pay a fee to buy in. It’s usually not refundable. Both models seem to work.

We found that all clubs charged monthly dues. Our observation was that the monthly dues should be enough to cover all of the fixed costs of the club, otherwise its financial position can go downhill in a hurry with a couple of months of poor flying weather.

One of the biggest problems clubs have is internal fights over setting the amount of monthly dues and hourly aircraft rental rates. Pilots are notorious tightwads and they want to fly as much as they can for as little money as possible. They don’t like to pay big money out each month if they are not flying and some simply don’t give a damn about the financial condition of the club—if it folds, they’ll go somewhere else to fly. A club that has a climate of “we’re all in this together” seems to have fewer fights over dues and rental rates. One essential condition, in our opinion, for creating a positive atmosphere among members is to make certain that every bit of the club’s financial information and insurance coverage is completely transparent. The moment the members get the impression that the officers are hiding something, the willingness of club members to vote to set dues and hourly rates for the airplanes at rates that reflect the true cost of operation starts going away.

When club members can easily see that the monthly fixed costs are X, the officers are working to keep those monthly costs down and the number of members is Y and that all members are really paying their dues, then the process of setting dues at a level that covers those costs is more likely to be routine rather than contentious.

As background, we like the information the AOPA has on its website about flying clubs—it’s an excellent resource, particularly for starting out. We agree with its recommended maximum ratio of pilots to airplanes at 12 to 1. Club officers we spoke with said that if that number is exceeded scheduling problems start showing up. If the number goes below 7 to 1, the cost to the members becomes prohibitive.

Armand Vilches, president of Lebanon Flying Club based at the Lebanon, Tennessee, Municipal Airport, told us that when a club is organized, it should not make its bylaws its operating rules. We agree, because amending the bylaws often requires a vote of the membership and some sort of a supermajority, making what should be routine changes become a headache. Also, frequently amended bylaws tend to become a mess and there’s always confusion as to what is the current version. We agree with Vilches’ analysis: “Bylaws should be the club’s constitution and the operating rules should be a separate document—essentially the club’s laws.”

Board of Directors

Keeping a flying club on an even keel requires people who are willing to be involved in the day-to-day operations—everything from making sure bills get paid and new members get processed through assuring maintenance is performed on the airplanes. To keep costs down, that means the members have to be willing to volunteer and fill the needed positions that make the club work. At a minimum, there has to be a president, a secretary/treasurer (usually the most labor-intensive job), maintenance manager (depending on the number of airplanes, there may need to be more than one), website manager, safety officer and membership manager. Because of the time commitment of the position of president and treasurer and potentially the maintenance manager, it’s our recommendation that they be rewarded in some fashion—and that the membership know precisely what that is. We like something along the lines of an hour free flying time per month for the president and two for the treasurer.

We’ve seen that abused in clubs with officers given several hours of free flying time per month, which unreasonably drove up the costs for the members. We also noted that in those clubs the officers tended to be the same year after year and ruled things with an iron hand—until the club either folded or the members revolted.

We recommend term limits for board members—but suggest they be used cautiously as they can be a bad thing if too short. It takes some time for a person in a new position to learn it and become effective. Based on our observations and interviews, we think that a person should not be able to hold the same board position for more than three or four years—and can come back to it after an absence of two.

It’s the board’s job, in our opinion, to set the tone for the club—keeping actions transparent, encouraging members to fly and expand their horizons, setting up social events such as flyouts, making changes to the rules in an open fashion (and which can be overridden by a supermajority of the membership) and dealing with members who become problem children. The board has the difficult duty of suspending or terminating a pilot’s membership for anything from repeatedly not cleaning up an airplane after flying it to harassing another member through unsafe operations. We observed that when a member errs, a quiet meeting with him and a couple of the board members generally results in the member straightening out. (We also recommend that when there is a problem, the better solution is counseling the offender rather than imposing a new rule on everyone that represents playing to the lowest common denominator.) However, we’ve also observed that, pilots being human, there are some that feel so entitled that they don’t respond to counseling and the board has to have the power to take action to toss out the miscreants. One club has a procedure that allows a member that is terminated by the board to make a presentation to the full membership to tell his side of the story—and the membership can override the board with a supermajority vote. We think that’s a good idea for clubs that are small enough to have regular membership meetings.

Why Fly?

One of the reasons pilots drop out of flying is that they get bored. They learned to fly because it looked like it was fun and cool. It is. Going out to the airport for just 30 minutes of touch and goes in the pattern isn’t fun or cool for very long. Successful flying clubs keep things fun and cool by organizing flyouts for dinners or weekend events—recognizing that cost is always an issue. We particularly liked a practice followed by some of the clubs we ran across: dinner flyouts with all of their airplanes. Each airplane would have a club instructor in the right seat, not being paid—the cost of the airplane was split between the two club members who do the flying. As most club airplanes are four-place and won’t really carry more than three adults, the other two club members split the out and back legs. For the leg home, after dark, the left-seater is the pilot with less night experience. He or she gets more night experience with a CFI in the other seat—a very good thing. The club members get a chance to socialize with others who speak the language of flight, make a flight that isn’t just grinding around the pattern and which may expand their horizons if they haven’t done much night flying or, if the weather cooperates, into IMC on an instrument flight plan.

We think regular club meetings are wise. The Lebanon Flying Club meets monthly for dinner and business. A member who misses three meetings has to have a chat with the safety officer. The Ann Arbor Flyers, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has regularly scheduled wash and wax days where the members get together to clean the fleet. That club has been around for 75 years and we’ve observed the camaraderie built through its regular member gatherings.

Scheduling

We found that every club we spoke with had wrestled with finding a way to allow members to schedule flights so that the most members could fly, members didn’t hog airplanes and members could take extended trips. The advent of internet-based scheduling programs has helped. The clubs that seemed most successful were responsive to the membership—especially as membership changed and the economy changed. Over the last five or six years as the economy grew steadily, clubs told us that members flew more and they had more pilots seek to join. That meant more demand for vacation trips, causing them to fine-tune their scheduling policies. We saw clubs that allowed members to schedule one long trip (not more than seven days), otherwise trips were limited to two or three days. Another allowed a max of three days unless the pilot went to the membership to ask for longer. We thought that was unwieldy but learned that it worked and that no pilot had ever been turned down. The bottom line was to keep the scheduling policy flexible and make sure that it is applied fairly. We did hear a bitter complaint from a former member of a club who said that at his club officers had the power to preempt the schedule and take a plane that was already scheduled. It was why he was a former member.

Training

A major part of any flying club is training—for new ratings and recurrent. From a safety standpoint, virtually every club we spoke with required that instructors who desired to instruct in club aircraft be approved by the club’s safety officer. They also required that each club member take an annual—rather than biennial—flight review with a club instructor.

We found that a lot of clubs actively marketed themselves to people who wanted to learn to fly and so had an active subset of members who were working on the private rating. That led to discussions as to maintenance of the airplanes—the clubs found that to attract members the airplanes had to look good and everything had to work. If a radio were inop for any length of time, it angered members working on ratings, especially the instrument rating.

All of the clubs we spoke with wrestled with the cost of either keeping their airplanes looking fresh and modern through refurbs or replacing them periodically. We spoke with board members of the Michigan Flyers in Ann Arbor and were told that they recently needed to add another Cessna 172 to their fleet. It would be required to serve both as a primary trainer, instrument trainer and cross-country traveling machine for the members. The board members were surprised to learn that in the less than a year since they’d bought another 172, the prices had skyrocketed as the demand for them from flight schools went through the roof—they were looking at nearly $200,000 for one that fit the bill.

We heard from clubs that had a de facto policy of spending as little as possible on aircraft upgrades; they would let paint, interior and avionics go as long as possible. Former members of such clubs reported that it was almost impossible to sell their shares as potential members took a look at the ratty condition of the airplane and went elsewhere. 

We also had a chance to look at the airplanes in the fleets of the Michigan Flyers and Ann Arbor Flyers—the former a mix of 152s, 172s and a 182 and the latter consisting of three Piper Archers and a Saratoga. While none were manufactured in the last decade and some were over 20 years old, all were in excellent shape—the result of the clubs being willing to budget for refurbs for interiors, avionics and paint.

Keeping the airplanes in good shape and requiring annual recurrent training was felt to be a factor in cost of insurance, according to conversations we had with board members who were involved with obtaining insurance for their clubs. We liked, and recommend, the approach taken by the clubs that made sure that the members, not just the club itself, were insured under the club’s policy. A pilot who spends the money to join a club should be covered by its insurance, in our opinion; she or he shouldn’t then have to shell out for renters insurance on top of membership costs.

Personality

In our experience, flying clubs develop their own personalities. Some become almost indistinguishable from commercial flight schools with little interaction between members; others are small groups that become so close knit that members form friendships that last for life. No matter what, personality conflicts are inevitable and philosophies as to how a club should be run—notably what upgrades should be made to the airplanes—differ. In an increasingly contentious society, we think a flying club should be a friendly place where members show courtesy and respect for each other so differences in opinion can be hashed out and resolved. Beyond making membership fun, resolving disagreements amicably can, in our opinion, affect safety. Airplanes that don’t get repaired because angry members refuse to spend the money can quickly cross the line from inconvenient to unsafe.

We recommend that clubs have an application process that involves a prospective member meeting the membership after filling out an application that the membership sees and making a very short presentation to the membership outlining why she or he wants to join. Afterward, in a secret ballot, the membership votes on the applicant. (We recommend that no one or two members have the power to veto applications as that can easily lead to denying membership because of the biases of a few.) Clubs that have applicants meet the membership before acceptance report that they felt that they’d avoided bringing in members who would not have had the appropriate level of respect for other members, safety and/or keeping the airplanes in good condition. Clubs that didn’t have such a policy reported that from time to time they had to throw out members who didn’t respect the airplanes and/or other members.

We’ve had some of the best experiences in our flying lives in flying clubs and made friends who we treasure. We’ve learned a lot from flying club instructors on days the weather went down, people who were scheduled to fly were in the office and an impromptu ground school developed to talk over an advanced subject that interested us. And, only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, we’ve also learned that when a club based at a controlled field throws a hangar party with beer for the members, that it's wise to invite the air traffic controllers to partake of free beer. Somehow club airplanes always get good handling and it’s been known to help smooth over those inevitable times when a member gets a bit of fumble-mouth when talking with the tower.

Rick Durden holds a CFII and ATP with type ratings in the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation and is the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing it, Vols. 1 & 2.

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