Often, I hear from readers who wish to share insights and advice based on their perception of the state of the general aviation marketplace. Many of the suggestions they offer are good. They have merit. I suspect if implemented, they might actually work.
Ideas are one thing. Gaining actual traction, though, that’s the rub. Fortunately, I’m having a good year in the traction department. So are a whole bunch of other people. Coincidentally, a lot of those folks belong to flying clubs.
Lately, I spend a good deal of my time helping people form flying clubs. It’s something of a hobby that got out of control.
But it’s a passion, too. Because flying clubs are a great idea. They were a great idea in the 1930s, and they’re a great idea today. Amazingly enough, for the exact same reasons.
Flying clubs offer a remarkable amount of social interaction with likeminded people while at the same time offering access to aircraft at steeply discounted rates.
This is not a theoretical point for discussion. The Reading Aero Club in Pennsylvania has been in business since 1929. The Penn Yan Aero Club in New York has been around since a decade later. Down south, the Yellow Jacket Flying Club at Georgia Tech got its start in 1946, while the Phoenix Flyers fired up in 1958.
These folks didn’t band together in order to impress their neighbors, or garner favor with local politicians, or speed their way out of town should the zombie apocalypse finally befall us.
No, they formed these clubs to take advantage of the simple reality that flying clubs provide a place to make friends, have fun, and fly inexpensively.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Flying clubs work. Even today. General aviation’s past is leading the way into general aviation’s future. All we have to do is take a few notes, participate in a conversation or two, and get involved. It’s really that easy.
The Central Florida Flying Club has been in business at Gilbert Field in Winter Haven, Florida, since 2015. The club logo says so.
Yes, the CFFC is a brand new club that’s made it through the challenges of its formative phase and emerged on the other side as a real asset to the airport community. It’s my club. I am a member.
Perhaps the story of how the club came to be would be instructive for others. I hope so. We’ve certainly done our best to leave a big ol’ trail of breadcrumbs for anyone who is interested.
What started as a group of about a dozen interested parties pared itself down to approximately six truly motivated individuals. We met in the airport conference room. That was the least expensive way to go, and it was convenient for most potential members.
We made sure the airport director was aware of our intentions right from the start. That didn’t buy us any favors, but it did keep us from inadvertently running afoul of the airport’s minimum standards, or ruffling the feathers of any business owners who might have felt threatened by a new entity forming on the field.
We hammered out our wish list for what we wanted our club to be. The slogan says it all: “Fly More, Spend Less, Have Fun.” That’s it.
We found a lawyer who helped us file our Articles of Incorporation with the State of Florida, establishing us as a non-profit corporation. The total cost was something on the order of $1,000. Not exactly pocket change, but not a number that would be daunting to a group of motivated club members.
Initially, we formed as a social club. We had no airplane to fly, but we got together each month to swap ideas, share contacts, and express our hopes and dreams. People brought food and drinks. Somehow, we made a party of it, and in the process continued to grow, bringing in new potential members each month.
We didn’t have the resources to buy, so a committee of three was formed to find an airplane to lease. Ultimately, a 1977 C-172 was located. With that we moved to a T hangar. When the maintenance shop on the eastern border of the field moved out of its executive hangar, the club moved in. That’s where we are based today.
The club holds ground school classes every Tuesday night. It’s free for members and will continue to be for as long as the membership is interested in it. We also hold a social event on the second Thursday of every month.
Somehow, with no advertising budget and only a Facebook page to market ourselves, new people kept finding us. One was an IT professional who set up a website where we can schedule flights and pay dues.
We’re now up to 17 paying members, and growing every month.
The nitty gritty of it is this: Flying members pay an annual fee of $350 to offset the cost of the hangar and insurance. All members pay $55 a month in dues, which includes social membership for their direct family members. The club’s C-172 operates for $94 an hour, wet. That’s pretty much it.
Members pitch in to mow the lawn, sweep out the hangar, teach the ground school classes, and man the grill. Whatever needs to be done, gets done. More often than not, by a group of people who are smiling, happy, and genuinely enjoying each other’s company.
I imagine our experience isn’t much different than those experienced by the original members of Penn Yan, or the Reading Aero Club, or the Yellow Jackets flying clubs.
It’s not magic, but the effects are magical. And the experiment is repeatable.
If you’re looking for a less expensive option to flying that has significant social appeal, perhaps you might consider looking into flying clubs in your area.
If you need help, let me know. I know a guy.