Affordable Aviation: Outstanding Flying Club Resources

If you're like me, part of being a pilot is aspiring to own an aircraft. There's something to be said for knowing you have access to an aircraft of your choice, at any time on any day. It's nice to be intimately familiar with it's handling qualities and avionics (or lack thereof,) and to know exactly how it's been treated by the last person to fly it. Aircraft ownership is a wonderful thing, but it's not without its difficulties. Taking care of an aircraft is a lot of work and it's relatively expensive.

Cost is probably the most commonly-blamed reason for the overall decrease in the number of pilots right now. Owning an airplane has the potential to decrease the hourly cost of flying, but only if you plan on spending a great deal of money on flying in a given year.

If you're looking for affordable aviation and aspire to own an aircraft, then a flying club might be a great way for you to go. If you're interested, AOPA just released a great set of resources for starting a flying club.

A good flying club has a myriad of benefits:

  1. You don't want to admit this, but you will never fly your aircraft as much as you plan or hope to. Sitting around isn't healthy for an airplane.

    With a flying club, you'll have more people flying the aircraft. Chances are you'd fly somewhere between 50-200 hours per year owning it yourself. Let's say you have a club with 6 people though. Even if each member only flies at the bottom end of that estimate, 50 hrs/yr, the aircraft will fly 300 total hours...a lot more than it would have otherwise.

  2. Owning an aircraft involves a lot of fixed costs (insurance, parking/hangar, maintenance, aircraft upgrades, etc.) They add up quickly and can be a lot to swallow. If you divide the fixed costs by the number of hours you fly, there's a good chance your hourly rate will be about as high as renting an aircraft. (There's a break-even point for this...usually somewhere around 200 hours per year.)

    If you have an entire club, these fixed costs are distributed among the entire membership. Spending $2000 or more on an annual inspection is a lot for a single owner. Divide that four or six or eight ways and it's not nearly as much as a problem. If your club accounts for fixed costs in the hourly rate members pay to fly the aircraft, then the people who use the plane the most cover a greater portion of those fixed costs. Since the aircraft is flying more hours, the effective hourly rate can be much lower. Everybody wins!

  3. Unfortunately, the reality of aircraft insurance and maintenance is such that most FBOs stick to "spam cans" for rental aircraft. I loved the Piper Cherokee that I learned to fly in and I'm happy to fly a C-172, but there are so many other wonderful aircraft out there! Sadly, it's almost impossible to find something different to rent from an FBO. Want a taildragger, a complex aircraft, an experimental, a twin, a warbird, a seaplane? Tough luck!

    A flying club, on the other hand, has access to the full gambit of aviation. Yes, insurance might cost a little more, but insurance companies would rather work with an organization that has a plan for safety, maintenance, and training. Flying clubs have their own category for insurance rates and you shouldn't have to pay too much more than you would for a spam can. Plus, you'll be distributing those insurance costs across all your members.

    Want to own and enjoy a Citabria, Lake, T-6, RV, TwinCo, Bonanza, C-337? A flying club is definitely an option you should consider.

  4. Another important part of being a pilot is the camaraderie. As a military pilot, I can say that there is nothing like being a member of a flying squadron! Where FBOs tend toward impersonal, or even hostile, a flying club can be a great source of friendship among like-minded pilots (and their families!) This is regularly mentioned as one of the major benefits of flying clubs.
  5. Sometimes it can be difficult to find a CFI willing to train you in a less common aircraft. They might doubt your experience, or their own familiarity with the aircraft. Making sure you have at least one or two CFIs in your club is a great way to make sure that you have instructors who are current in your aircraft and that they have a vested interest in giving you great training.
  6. As a military pilot, I have a pretty good idea of the skill level of the people with whom I fly. When I go to an FBO, I have no idea if the person flying the plane before me knew how to lean the mixture, land the plane in a crosswind, or clean the bugs off the leading edges after he or she shut down. With a flying club, you get to choose the people you associate with, you have the ability to set some standard operating procedures, and you have CFIs to help train everyone to adhere to those standards. Plus, you have accountability. Everyone knows who flew the aircraft last, and problems can be addressed directly.

I could keep going with this list for a while, but I'll leave the rest to AOPA. If you haven't already, go check our their Flying Club Resources page!

They have an impressive resource library with samples for articles of incorporation, bylaws, cost calculators, and much more. They have a link to free (!) scheduling software. They have a nicely done presentation that discusses some important considerations for forming your club...based on research of existing clubs. If nothing else, as a pilot you should be interested in at least looking at Start a Club Checklist.

I've heard some criticism of AOPA's tendency to recommend services that make them money - I guarantee their website will tend to funnel you toward the AOPA Insurance company. Fault them if you want, but don't let that prevent you from taking advantage of the great resources they have to offer. Adapt their products for your club's mission. Shop around for insurance...everything else. I'm a huge fan of AOPA, but I always shop around anyway.

AOPA's flying club resources page is a consolidated source of pretty much everything you need to get access to affordable flying, in an aircraft that you will enjoy for years. Take advantage of their generosity and use it to get yourself flying!