It started like so many other great ideas in aviation: A bunch of pilots sitting around, talking about their love of flying and their concern about the dwindling pilot population.
But unlike so many, these Chicago area pilots decided to do something. They formed Ground Effect Advisors (GEA) and then created a scholarship focused exclusively on flying clubs. The winning applicant will receive more than $3,500 worth of products, services, and support towards getting a flying club off the ground.
“We thought there’s got to be something we can do to help,” said Todd McClamroch, one of the founding partners of GEA and the man behind MyFlightBlog.com, which is all about learning to fly. “Everybody talks about helping, but it needed a kickstart.”
Rather than offer a scholarship to encourage one person to learn to fly, the men decided they could make the most impact by helping a whole community of pilots with the creation of a new flying club.
“General aviation continues to face a challenging set of issues resulting in a decreasing pilot community, and economic struggles throughout the industry,” said Al Waterloo, a GEA co-founder. “Historically, the response has been to focus on building the community one pilot at a time, via individual scholarships, targeted marketing, and flight school effectiveness.”
GEA’s founders are all members of Leading Edge Flying Club at Chicago Executive Airport (PWK). In fact, McClamroch credits the flying club with “playing a big part” in keeping him involved in general aviation. Like so many other pilots, he found that flying on his own was stretching his budget, plus, he admits, it was sometimes lonely.
“One week I flew by myself and it was a couple of hundred dollars,” he recalls. “The next week I flew with the flying club and it was $80 and I had a lot more fun — and I got plenty of stick time.”
The people behind GEA know a thing or two about flying clubs. Besides McClamroch, there’s Marc Epner, founder of Leading Edge Flying Club (LeadingEdgeFlyingClub.com); Waterloo, a CFI and commercial pilot who is also involved in Simple Flight Aviation Radio (SimpleFlight.net); and Louis Bowers, a pilot who also has a blog, Sky Conditions Clear at SkyConditionsClear.blogspot.com.
The four then reached out to the GA community and found a lot of support from some big names, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Sporty’s, David Clark, Cirrus Aircraft, Signature Flight Support, Schedule Master, PilotEdge, Heading 370, and LiveATC.net.
“We knew we were on to something,” McClamroch said.
If the industry participation didn’t convince them, the response to the scholarship has. In the week after the scholarship was launched, they received more than 50 applications from 26 states. “We got two applications from the same airport — they didn’t even know each other,” he said.
The winner of the scholarship receives a laundry list of items to start a flying club, including $1,000 in seed money from AOPA, headsets, shirts with logos, and more. Perhaps most importantly, however, the winner will get a lot of help from the industry and the folks at GEA.
“GEA will help them get airborne,” McClamroch said, noting the partners will consult on everything from bylaws to selecting the right aircraft for the club. “We’ll help them through the process.”
Applications for the scholarship will be taken through May 1. The winner will be announced June 1 and the new flying club is targeted to launch Sept. 1.
“Our goal is to have it up and running by the end of the summer,” McClamroch said.
The scholarship will go to the applicant who shows that they’ve got the capability to not only start a club, but facilitate its growth.
“We want to find a place where it will make a big impact,” he said, noting it may be a small airport “with a lot of great opportunities.”
The pilots behind GEA hope this isn’t a one-time thing. “We hope we can help other people besides the winner,” he said. “We’d love to do this as an annual thing or maybe even more frequently. We’ll see how many people we can impact and benefit, then hopefully do it again.”
Along with the scholarship, GEA has launched StartAFlyingClub.com, a website dedicated to supporting the startup and evolution of flying clubs. It includes a lot of information, as well as a section where you can ask questions of the experts.
For more information: StartAFlyingClub.com