There’s no denying that flying clubs make aviation affordable by sharing the fixed costs of airplane operation among a number of people. Active pilots are the obvious benefactors, as are lapsed pilots looking for a way to resume flying. In focusing on their immediate needs, members of many clubs have, without realizing it, created a closed society. Without new members to propagate the pilot species, their number will dwindle with time, adding to the survivor’s financial responsibilities.
This observation is brought to you by Tim Lemke, president of the Winnebago Flying Club, in a conversation we had after his presentation at a recent AM Oshkosh, a monthly chamber of commerce networking breakfast. Before his 10-minute talk on the benefits of flying for fun and personal transportation he set up a small display and neatly stacked flyers that itemized the benefits of club membership, which includes learning to fly. A flight instructor, Tim is the perfect presenter, and he never turns down an opportunity to promote the club and flying.
Not relying on face-to-face opportunities, the club has also been extending its reach with social media to invite prospective pilots and others to its monthly meetings, which always include an appropriate presentation. In December it was a refresher on winter flying, and the information also shows newcomers that they won’t need to hibernate if they learn to fly. Honestly, the club’s efforts to recruit new members, either lapsed pilots or those who want to become a pilot, is to sustain its existence, which also helps aviation as a whole.
Unfortunately, my experience with most flying clubs and similar groups, like EAA chapters, does not reveal a preponderance of outreach and recruiting activities. In many cases they are, literally, old boys clubs whose members often share narrow views of what aviation should be.
Some are dedicated to a specific make and model airplane and those who don’t share their similar passion need not apply. I’ve run across others focused on an aviation era, activity, and even landing gear configuration. And that’s all fine, but in creating these closed societies they can compute the remaining years of their existence based on the age of their youngest members.
Inertia is perhaps the most common reason flying clubs are closed societies. Recruiting new members takes time and energy and someone who cares enough to actually do more than talk about it. If I remember correctly, Tim told me during his pitch for my membership that the club has four CFIs. (Tim was my CFI when I belonged to the club several years ago. I left because it traded its 172 for an Archer, which I don’t fit in. It has another Cessna, so membership is again an option.) All of them are involved in the club’s outreach efforts, as are other members.
They are involved for a selfish reason; they want their club to remain viable for another 30 years, or at least until the end of their flying lives. By then, the next generation will be, one fervently hopes, in place to continue to fight to keep it robust and thriving by finding new members. Scott Spangler, Editor