Like so many general aviation pilots, I found myself some years ago with very limited options for renting aircraft. Whenever I found a company that was willing to rent to the public, I found the price was high, the service was poor, the aircraft were less than inviting, and I never felt particularly valued as a customer. Rather, I felt somewhat invisible. The providers’ main interest seemed focused on the contents of my checkbook.
That didn’t work for me.
When I first began looking into the idea of forming a flying club at my local airport, I was cash poor but highly motivated. I found others in a similar position. That was the start of it.Today, we have a flying club of which I am very proud to be a member. But that was never in question. As a CFI, and an A&P, with a persistent love of things that fly, there really wasn’t much doubt that I would eventually find a way to get myself into a social organization that’s centered on flying.
What I found surprising, and totally unexpected, is the stunning diversity of people I’d meet along the way.
It took months of preparation and planning to get the club on its feet. Longer than it should have taken. But that’s water under the bridge. The club is finally ready to roll.
We have a leased Cessna 172. It’s an older model, a utilitarian machine. Somewhat antiquated in terms of avionics, the airplane is attractive and airworthy. The addition of an iPad brings the navigation equipment well into the 21st Century, while maintaining a very affordable platform to carry it in.
Club members can fly for $94 per hour wet, which covers the direct operating costs. When club members fly together, they can log time for as little as $47 per hour. That’s a pretty attractive rate for a fledgling ATP deep in the throes of building PIC time.
At 56 years old, I often find myself in the mid-age-range at pilot gatherings. Sometimes I’ve even on the young side of those assembled. Not so in the flying club.
When we threw the hangar door open and invited people to come see what we were all about, we did it with pizza and chilled beverages, an offering of free private pilot ground school, and big smiles. The results were amazing — 18 potential members popped up on that first day, with my good friend Andy and I holding down the old guy positions quite nicely.
Marcos is an IT professional in his 30s who always wanted to fly, but never had the chance. Cassidy teaches in the public school system. She’s ready for a new adventure in her life. Austin is a high school student with dreams of a career in aviation – although not necessarily in the cockpit. Matt is an ATP who flies a turbine powered dream machine for a U.S. based food producer. Jim is a CFI who wants to have a place to enjoy aviation in a more social setting. Ray is a private pilot with fewer than 100 hours, who dreams of taking the airplane on two or three day cross countries.
All of them are finding a home in the flying club, as are old guys like me who just want to have some fun in aviation when we’re not earning our living in aviation.
Perhaps most gratifying to me is that none of us knew for sure who would show up on that first day. Our expectations were all over the map, but none of us ever considered it a likelihood that we’d find curious potential members skewing toward the younger end of the scale, or that as many women as men would saunter into the hangar.
And while we’re on the subject, you can’t attract people if you don’t make the environment comfortable for them. Our club president is a woman. We’ve had women on the board of directors since our first planning meetings, which is why we’ve made it a point to make our hangar female friendly. We’ve got a round table and chairs where members can gather and chat. Nobody sits at the head of the table. We’re all peers. The bathroom in our hangar is currently being revamped with feminine touches including colors other than institutional white, soaps that don’t smell like kerosene, and towels that aren’t made of paper.
It’s the little things that make a club inviting. We’re working on those points and we’re succeeding. Yay us.
The best news of all is knowing that what we did here at my home field can be replicated and improved upon anywhere — even at your home field.
If you’re not finding the aircraft you want, at a price point you’re comfortable with, and aren’t feeling valued at the counter, perhaps a flying club is the solution. They’re out there.
And if you can’t find the club you want, then get creative and start one. It’s not as hard or as expensive as you might think.
And you have help if you want it. Because my email address is right there, linked at the bottom of this column. Write me to share your success story or ask how you can start a club of your own. I’ll write you back. I promise.