How Will Flying Clubs Welcome New Pilots?

By Scott Spangler on December 26th, 2012

AM-15There’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.

clip_image001Unfortunately, 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.

AM-23Some 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


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11 Responses to “How Will Flying Clubs Welcome New Pilots?”

  1. Rick Matthews Says:

    Scott, you have expressed an observation I have been making for years and years. And you did it most eloquently and honestly. Thank you.

    Face it – a lot of this is personality based. We cannot expect every Flying Club, EAA Chapter, or Local Pilots Assn to be real good at recruiting and retaining. Most don’t – can’t. As a former EAA Chapter President myself, I can attest as to the decadency to just be a good-ole boys “sittin’ around club”. Organizing pilots is a lot like herding cats; it can’t be done. However, given the right: 1) environment, 2) motivations/rewards, 3) fun factor, and 4) a sense of being a part of something real special, then you WILL have something worth bragging about.

    For this reason, we are specifically designing the Flight Center concept for the Aviation Access network to be just that. All of the incentives and attitudes are in place for the right reason, and for sustainability. Yes, while the core of the FC is to provide shares of small aircraft for sale then manage those shared-ownership aircraft on behalf of the partners, we are willing to take local, at-risk flying clubs under our wing to provide the above-mentioned four components for success.

    Thanks again for excellence in observations and writings, Scott. Keep up the good work.

    Rick Matthews

  2. Dale CAvin Says:

    I an the Sec- Treas of a small flying club in the Florida Panhandle that has been in existance since 1984. Our club has a limit of 15 members and owns a 172 and 182. The problem we are finding when a member wants to leave and transfer their interest is that no one seems to want to commit to the money it costs to fly. We have no initiation fee, although a membership is purchased from a current member at a negotiated price. We have a reasonable monthly fee and very reasonable dry use rate for the planes. However, a member has a committent to pay the fees. We have recently had a very difficult time finding those willing to make such a commitment.

  3. Michael Mahoney Says:

    “In many cases they are, literally, old boys clubs whose members often share narrow views of what aviation should be.”

    “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 dont fit in. It has another Cessna, so membership is again an option.”

    LOL! and Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!!!

  4. Tom Says:

    I agree that flying clubs may be an “archaic reminder of the past. I suspect the decline in flying club membership reflects the overall malaise in general aviation.
    Through the years I have been approached about joining a club. Usually,this entailed an equity type of membership requiring purchase of a share of ownership in one or more airplanes. Generally, I found this to be prohibitively expensive. I couldn’t justify spending thousands of dollars just for the privilege of being an aircraft owner. This, of course, on top of fuel, insurance, maintenance, hanger and instructor fees. Ultimately, I found it far easier and cheaper to go to a local FBO.
    I fully understand today’s insurance policies may prevent this, but it might be more affordable, if a flying club could charge an “ownership” fee based on the number of hours a person flew. Or perhaps offer reduced rates for students. Another possibility might be a pre-solo special. Too often we have seen student pilots solo and then walk away. Imagine spending several thousand dollars, flying 10 hours and then having to sell your share.
    Seems a pity when, with some thought, we could encourage students to continue membership with the flying club.
    Sadly, until general aviation begins a resurgence flying clubs may be continue to drop away.

  5. Planehook Says:

    You are spot on! I’ve seen flying clubs come and go over the years for the very reasons you cite. From an individual’s point of view, there is little incentive for reaching out for more members when that results in reduced access to the same number of aircraft. So part of the outreach effort should be a financially responsible plan for increasing (and decreasing, if necessary) the size of the club’s fleet to provide members with sufficient aircraft availability.
    I also agree with you that flying clubs can become old boys and old girls clubs. One possible way to overcome that result is to create at a club’s founding a charter that makes the organization more like a community service group and less like a local pilots cabal…somewhere between a flying Kiwanis or Lions club and a civil air patrol unit. It would then be up to a flying club’s officers to lead within the spirit of the charter.
    If flying clubs can do these, I think they could go a long way towards increasing the number of licensed pilots and reversing the current trend of attrition in our ranks.
    Cheers from the Alamo,
    Dave Hook

  6. Marvin Rifkin Says:

    I am the President of a flying club in Southern California (Airventurers} and we have the some of the same problems. We own no aircraft as a club. Our members either own or rent their aircraft. Our purpose is to give pilots and their spouses an organization that makes flying fun for all levels of pilots. We have dinner meetings with speakers, we have monthly lunch fly-ins and monthly fly-ins to interesting places. In the past we have put up posters, made up flyers, gone to other organization’s meetings, tried booths at local air shows etc. Making pilots aware of what we have to offer seems to work best when we talk to pilots one on one that we meet at the fuel pit, next door to where we tie down, at the FBO’s, etc. Any suggestions on what else to do would be appreciated.

  7. JanSquillace Says:

    Flying clubs are the future of general aviation from my perspective. I decided to learn to fly after my younger child graduated from school. Time for MOM!!!

    I was so fortunate to find Wings of Carolina in Sanford NC (KTTA). The club was about 150 members with 7 airplanes at the time.
    Through some trials and tribulations, we have weathered the recent economic conditions in fine financial state, grown to 360 members, 13 airplanes.
    What is takes is VOLUNTEERS. We are a volunteer-run club with only a few employees, one part-time bookkeeper and 2 A&P mechanics.
    We have 14 instructors (contractors) who do flight training and aircraft checkouts.
    It takes legions of dedicated volunteers to market, recruit membership, maintain aircraft and our building, run the retail operations, plan safety meetings and club events, long-range planning for fleet acquisitions, work with airport authority to get facilities for our continuing growth. But with 360 members, there are lots of willing hands and brilliant minds.

    Flying clubs are what you make of them.

  8. Manny Block Says:

    Our club has some of the same problems mentioned. We have no debt and our book value is $11,00 per member. Even discounted memberships at $4,500 find no takers. We are dying on the vine.

  9. Brian P Says:

    $4,500 for a membership? Yikes!! And I thought my clubs $500 fee to be a little high. Our club maxed out at 10 members, according its charter, and we only had one Cessna.

    I joined my club, which had been around for about 20 years, when they invited people for a free ride to get new people interested in aviation. Being new to flying, and knowing there would be additional costs to learn, I wouldn’t have joined if I had to pay out $4,500. Being new, I wouldn’t really see the value of joining a club with eight planes, or be willing to pay for the privilege not knowing if I would like flying or could complete the training. My club wasn’t overwhelming, and had a low barrier for entry. It was just the right size for me. And even though I now have a bunch of hours in my logbook, and love to fly different aircraft, I couldn’t see kicking out almost $5,000 plus monthly fees, to fly them. Small clubs and large clubs, have two different markets.

    Those new to flying, will be more interested in a small club that only has a couple of planes, a small number of members to bond with, and low fees for flying. The larger clubs with a hundred members or more, are for pilots with more then 500 hours. Those pilots usually have access to aircraft already, so they may or may not want to join another club with high membership fees.

    I joined my club in 1994, and flew with a $25/hr wet rate. That was for a really clean hangered 172. When I wanted to fly something new or faster, I rented it elsewhere. I recall renting the new 1999 C-172 for $100 wet. It made me appreciate our club plane more, even after we had to raise our wet rate to $30.

    That is what you call, the good old days.

  10. havac?l?k Says:

    Tim is absolutely right. They have to hug new members to extand the society.

  11. hcg Says:

    I agree. Thank you for posting this. I will check back to see what’s new and tell my neighbors about it.

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