Flying Club May Resuscitate Flying Career

By Scott Spangler on February 8th, 2012

CLEAR!

TV doctors bark this sharp-elbowed warning before they shock a restive heart back to a regular rhythm. It is also the warning pilots issue to bystanders before they energize an airplane’s air processer. Seemingly disassociated warnings, several days ago the Winnebago Flying Club united them by offering to resuscitate my flat-lined flying career and increase the active pilot population by one. (Hey, every one counts these days.)

CleanLike uncounted thousands of pilots of my generation, I surrendered the left seat in the past decade because there just wasn’t enough money left at month’s end to pursue something I do for fun. Family obligations, like food and a warm, dry place to live, and two kids in college, with child support on top of tuition, books, and board, have first dibs on an unpredictable freelance income.

Counting the days to their graduation coincides with my 60th birthday and the financial preparations that will sustain me in my dotage. A realist, I was resigned to spend the rest of my life on the ground and looking up whenever an airplane flew overhead. When I learned that the flying club was accepting new members, looking at the numbers made my heart jump.

Flying clubs have always been a viable option for affordable flight, and a decade ago I belonged to this club, which has called Wittman Regional Airport home for roughly 30 years. It was the last time I flew regularly; I left the club when it replaced its Cessna 172 with a Piper Archer II, in which my oversize frame is an effective control lock. With another 172, it was worth a look, and I now wish that I’d kept tabs on the club over the years.

RinseEven in my financial situation, it’s doable. The fees are unchanged! A one-time $150 membership fee and $30 monthly dues. The Cessna, certified for IFR and sporting a new Garmin 430 and audio panel goes for $79 an hour wet? That can’t be right. Similar airplanes in the area cost well north of $100, so I called the president, one of the club’s four CFIs.

Yup, the numbers are current, says Tim Lemke. The club is not-for-profit, and the rental rate pays for gas and maintenance reserves. The monthly dues cover the fixed expenses. For more than two years it was $75 an hour, but the club had to up when avgas surpassed the $5 mark, and they may have to up it again later this year if avgas price predictions come true.

Still, it’s doable, if I cut back on my cigar and single-malt budget, and that seems like a fair trade to me. And there is the additional benefits of the Winnebago Flying Club’s monthly meetings, which include a safety program, social activity, or plane wash after the business meeting.

Membership is still a year off for me, for that is when my youngest graduates. But given the rate at which time now passes, that isn’t long at all, given the destination’s rewards. If you’re like me, believing your flying days are done, don’t repeat my mistake of assuming a club’s costs are still beyond your means. Check them out. It may resuscitate your aerial desires. – Scott Spangler

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15 Responses to “Flying Club May Resuscitate Flying Career”

  1. Evan Says:

    Scott –

    What a lovely post. Flying is a passion. Something that will always be a part of us.

    I am a regional airline pilot, sitting on the cusp of a supposed pilot shortage – the implications of which will be huge.

    The career is difficult: harsh, long, tiresome, and perilous. I admire both your decision to leave the left seat and your decision to stay connected to the industry.

    I stand in your shoes – your shoes years ago. Where do I go from here? Do I continue to pursue this career within sight of quick movement, or do I remain firmly on the ground in a job less tied to oil prices, mergers, and seniority?

    You brought it all back to one important point: once a pilot, always a pilot.

    Thanks!

  2. Pete Says:

    I’m on the opposite side of the continum from the author. I am just getting into my flying career, having less than a year since earning my certificate. But I whole-heartedly agree with his viewpoint on clubs! I first started lessons with a club in Knoxville that owns it’s own grass-strip airport on an island in the Tennessee River! And talk about a fantastic community or pilots! Fast-forward to a move to Pittsburgh where I found a club north of the city that owns a fleet of 8 aircraft, from a simple C152 to a high-performance & complex Piper Arrow! Both of these clubs have provided fantastic opportunities for training, community, and fun that you don’t get from an FBO’s rental fleet or a commercial school.

  3. Aviatrix Says:

    I have been flying for 23 years and am currently an airline captain. I did all my initial training with my local club. In my experience, there has never been a more affordable way to fly than via a flying club. Flight schools will always have overhead and staff to pay for. Clubs are often not for profit and for the membership. You just can’t beat that for getting more bang for the buck!

  4. Ron Says:

    Wow, those rates are extremely reasonable. At my home airport (KSNA), even a 2 seat LSA costs 20% more than that. I say jump on it, ’cause the only thing I can predict with certainty is that flying will cost more in the future than it does today!

  5. Eric Says:

    Flying clubs are a good idea in theory, but the fact is, unless you have an adequate pilot to plane ratio, a lot of time and money is spent just subsidizing other pilots and not doing any flying yourself. Most clubs have a Buy-in to begin with (mostly refundable)then a monthly dues (not refundable) then hourly charges and fuel. If you fly infrequently, you can spend more in a flying club than you would renting from the local FBO. If you fly a lot the savings can be significant, but you have to compete with every other pilot for available hours. Most people don’t fly at night, so that takes 8 to 10 hours out of each day, leaving 14 to 16 hours available. For a 1 hour training flight, you need to figure 2 hours for each plane (1 for flying, 30 minutes for preflight and 30 minutes for service between flights). Assuming every pilot flies exactly their alloted time, that is 7 to 8 flights per day/plane. Longer flights reduce the available flight hours proportionately. Someone wants the plane for a long trip, or the club decides to do a group trip, you have zero availability on the weekend when most people have time to fly. YMMV

  6. ron jones Says:

    I fly an Alarus CH-2000 (I know, it sounds like a Harry Potter broom). I have not seen any clubs for same, and dont know how to see if there is any interest among the 150 or so owners….

  7. jamie Beckett Says:

    Way to go, Scott! What a great, personal story about the benefits of flying clubs. Excellent.

    You do the industry a great service when you write so eloquently about the options that are available on the market. Well done. I’m so glad your piece is being read far and wide, and hopefully giving some fledgling pilots a few ideas about how the might cut costs, expand their flying opportunities, and really get somewhere – both figuratively and literally.

  8. @williamAirways Says:

    Flying clubs are certainly a good resource to locate cheap flying…that is…if you fly. There’s always a break even point that one needs to consider. If you are only flying 1 hour per month, that 1 hour rate will need to be adjusted to account for the monthly dues:

    1 x $79 – rental
    1 x $30 – membership dues

    That 1 hour actually cost $109. Does the local FBO have a better airplane for the same price? If you skip a month, your next month’s rate will be $139 for that hour. How about if you skip two months? Obviously, if you fly a lot, then the flying club solution works out quite well. But then again, if you fly a lot, does that mean that the airplane’s availability is less to other club members? What is there are frequent flyers? Will the airplane be available when YOU want it?

    Every market is different obviously. I think while the flying club concept is a good one, the buyer should be aware of how the club conducts its business, maintenance, record keeping, compliance to applicable aviation regulations, aircraft availability, insurance coverage, internal club rules, club financial health, and the general dynamics of the club membership. There are other considerations to be sure. Thus while the price is right, the club may not be.

  9. Steve Craigle Says:

    Don’t wait.
    Take out a loan or something & do it NOW!
    Good health……

  10. John Says:

    I joined a Cessna 172 club a year ago. I’m completely sold on the idea.

    Here’s the numbers:

    – Cessna 172D IFR platform
    – 17 members (only about half actually fly)
    – $2500 purchase price – values the club at $42.5k
    – $75/month dues covers all fixed expenses: insurance, hangar, maintenance, and engine reserve

    – $30/hour to fly + (10 * current fuel price/gallon), so this equates to about $95/hour wet

    The club maintains a cash reserve to pay for the fuel every time it’s topped off, so I only pay the club via a single check once a month.

    The club holds annual meetings to discuss how things are run, and most of the members contribute a fair amount of time to maintenance, cleaning, and care of the plane.

    This approach seems to be a better bet than direct ownership or FBO rental for someone who flies about 50-100 hours a year.

  11. Paul Bohnert Says:

    Scott,

    Thank’s for the nice article!

    I have been a member of the Winnebago Fly Club for three years. I learned to fly in the club plane.

    The cost is important. The other part is the club. We have a great bunch of people that share an interest in flying.

    Feel free to join us at our monthly meetings. We keep the meetings short and to the point. After the meeting we have an aviation discussion. They are mostly focused on safety. Last month we had an introduction to the new radio, GPS and com panel.

    We’ll keep the tank’s topped off till you’re ready to jump back into the left seat.

    Best,

  12. Curt Carter Says:

    Hey, that’s me rinsing the plane after a wash. I have belonged to this club over one iteration or another for about 15 years, and let me tell you, we have a great group of pilots and instructors. I am looking forward to getting to meet you Scott!

  13. Sam Wiltzius Says:

    William Airways does bring up some points about needing to fly to make it worth the monthly deus. There are a few things at least in our club you get for your monthly deus and that is access to CFIs, ready supply of safety pilots, monthly activities, and camaraderie. Not all clubs provide this mind you but some times it is worth a bit of money just to have this access even if you don’t fly often so you need to check out if a flying club you are looking at provides these “extras” that can help justify it for a low time flyer. In my case joining a flying club was able to save me thousands on obtaining my private pilot license.

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