The first flying club I ever came across was in Winter Haven, Florida. I was a newly minted flight instructor back then and moved to town for my first flying job.
The club was based on a taildragger, a Champ as I recall, although time may have affected my memory on that point. It might have been a Cub. No matter. There was a club. It was successful.
Eventually that club disbanded. I’m sure there were multiple reasons, certainly one of those reasons that many of the members had purchased aircraft of their own.
Today, there is a flying club in Winter Haven again. After many years of drought, a disparate and interesting group of people have banded together to create a flying club with the catchy motto, “Fly more, spend less, have fun.”
What could be better than that? Well, frankly I can only think of one thing that could beat it. What if you started a flying club in your neighborhood? Imagine the possibilities.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a member of the newly formed club in Winter Haven. I’m also a die-hard advocate who spends part of nearly every day helping someone, somewhere pull a flying club together. Currently I’m working with the Winter Haven club, as well as clubs in various states of formation in Lakeland, Plant City, Deland, Vero Beach, and Panama City, Florida.
Let’s just say the idea is catching on.
If the concept of a flying club whets your appetite, then this is your lucky day. Because while starting a flying club does require some work and dedication to details, the process can literally be broken down into a series of relatively simple steps. When you’ve completed the last step, you’ll find yourself involved with a flying club that not only lowers the cost of flying, but one that also provides important social interaction among its members.
You can do this. And you can get help if you need it, too. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) offers considerable resources, which are available online to provide easy access to a wealth of information.
Better yet, there are a handful of AOPA Ambassadors out there across America who are tasked with the mission of helping you to get the most out of aviation. I’m one of those ambassadors. So is Kay Sundaram in Southern California. We can help you if you need us, and so can a talented crew of aviation professionals back at AOPA HQ in Frederick, Maryland.
The important take-away is this: You’re not alone. If you want to fly more, spend less, and have fun…well, you can make that happen.
Step 1: Gather a crowd
Truthfully, you don’t need all that many people to get a club started. In fact, if you’ve got enough drive and a clear direction, you can get the whole thing going on your own. But in general terms, the more the merrier. If you’ve got a handful of folks who have a similar desire to start a club, the process is that much easier. Like grandma said, many hands make light work.
Step 2: Fill a need
A successful flying club needs to fill a need for its members. The club best suited for you might be a recreational club built around an inexpensive classic airframe. Or it might focus on high-performance aircraft, or IFR flight, or taildraggers.
You can create a club that does whatever you want it to do, but you’ll find success most frequently when the club you found or join specializes in activities that best serve the desires of the membership. Write a mission statement, then refer to it occasionally to keep yourself and your club on course.
Step 3: Organize
A flying club can be as simple as a handful of individuals who simply agree to share the use and costs of a leased airplane. Or it can be as complex as hundreds of individuals who own, maintain, and use multiple aircraft. Whether you choose to pursue tax exempt status or not is a consideration, as well.
Clubs are non-profit social organizations, so they can be structured to fit into the 501(C)(7) status offered by the IRS. You may want to consult an attorney and an accountant to help guide you to the best structure for your particular situation, but you can form a club fairly quickly and without spending a fortune. It’s been done, and it’s being done right now.
Step 4: The Aircraft
When it comes to aircraft, there are two basic club categories. Equity clubs own the aircraft they fly. Non-equity clubs lease them. Neither model is superior to the other. They both have pros and cons, depending on your situation.
Often, the non-equity model offers the lowest start-up cost, since the membership doesn’t have to produce the full purchase price of the aircraft up-front. You might even decide to mix and match. A non-equity club can, over time, transition into an equity club, if the membership chooses to do so.
Step 5: Rules, operating procedures, and overhead
Every club needs rules to operate effectively. And they have costs that must be covered. Your fledgling club can use readily available templates that can be modified to your own best use. And with a headcount of potential members, you can take a reasonably accurate stab at what the final cost of membership will be.
This can be an exciting time as you realize that all the fixed costs that go into operating and maintaining an aircraft will now be shared by more than one person, effectively lowering the cost of flying for all involved.
Those are the basics in five simple steps. As you can see, none of them are particularly hard, or expensive, or mysterious. In fact, almost anyone can pull together a viable flying club if they really want to. The question is, do you want to?
If you do, let me know. I’d be happy to point you to some great resources that will help you get rolling. You can do this. AOPA and I would be happy to help.