Until last year, I’d never been part of a flying club. I had always received training at established flight schools throughout the years and rented aircraft at local FBOs. I’d always heard that flying clubs, while less expensive, could be troublesome. Rumors of old airplanes, casual maintenance practices, scheduling problems and bad management always seemed to accompany discussions about flying clubs.
But as it turns out, it’s possible that I was actually just a victim of shady marketing tactics and misguided beliefs that implied that flying clubs were somehow not as good as traditional aircraft rental businesses and flight schools. The aviation business is a tough world, and the flight student often goes to the flight school with the newest airplanes and the best website. After years of flying, I’ve learned that sometimes the old airplanes are the best, and as much as I hate to admit it (I’m a marketing snob), marketing doesn’t mean anything if you can’t follow through. While I love a good marketing plan, the product is what really counts, and the same - or better - product found in traditional businesses can, in fact, be found in a flying club.
What is a flying club?
A flying club differs from a traditional flight school because it’s not-for-profit, whereas a flight school operates as a profitable entity. Flying clubs are completely run by the membership, with a board of directors leading the way. AOPA says there are about 600 flying clubs active today, and on average, each club has about 50 members and operates four aircraft.
Operating a flying club
Operating a flying club, like any flight school, is a lot of work for not much reward, and it’s often hard for clubs to stay in business. It takes a special group of people to manage a flying club and another special group of members to invest their own personal time and money into its success. Flying clubs will charge membership dues to offset operating costs, but otherwise don’t take in any revenue. And club members in a flying club operate club airplanes as owners instead of renters, which means they often have to pay a deposit upfront, but pay less in rental charges.
Advantages of flying clubs
The most obvious advantage of flying with a flying club is the cost. Aircraft rental rates are often high enough to just cover the operating costs, meaning you don’t pay the steep markup that a for-profit business charges.
But there are a lot of other advantages, as well, including the availability of different types of airplanes, the ability to take an airplane overnight or on a weekend trip (many businesses don’t allow this), the availability and presence of flight instructors who are also members, and the camaraderie. One of the most beneficial parts of joining a flying club is the camaraderie and the educational value of having other pilots and instructors around to answer questions or offer advice.
Joining a flying club has been the best aviation decision I’ve ever made. In the short time I’ve been there, I’ve learned more than I ever would have at another flight school or FBO. I’m always being challenged, and my flying skills are always being improved. The rates are less expensive than the other FBOs in the area, there is always another pilot around to bounce an idea off of, and there’s always a fly-out or an event to attend. And it’s family-friendly, too. I can bring my kids to the club building for a Saturday cookout, and they have just as much fun as I do socializing with other club members.
For me, the advantages of the flying club are clear. Not every club is perfect, but if you have a flying club nearby, it might be worth checking out!