June 6, 2013
By Benét J. Wilson
Central Arkansas’s Sparrow Flying Club—which operates as a for-profit limited liability company—uses aircraft leased by owners who want to help defray their operating costs. The club operates out of Conway Municipal, Saline County Regional, and North Little Rock Municipal airports.
The club was founded in 2008 and has 70 members, said founder and owner David Jones. It also serves as one of 11 pathfinder flying clubs under the AOPA Flying Clubs Initiative. “[AOPA Senior Vice President] Adam Smith contacted me about the initiative and asked our club to join,” he said. “At the time, they were looking for clubs in the middle of the country away from Florida, California, and the Northeast.”
Jones said the continued shrinking of general aviation pushed him to form his club and become a pathfinder club. “People are finding it harder to get into flying, even for recreation. I’m a corporate pilot who flew for a major department store,” he said. “I flew in to hundreds of airports and saw that more and more of them don’t even have rental aircraft. I saw thousands of aircraft with tires going flat because no one is using them.”
So Jones’s idea for the Sparrow Flying Club was for people who have a Cessna 172 not being used to allow others to use it. “The questions include how do you handle the transaction, insurance, and maintenance? An average guy with a plane doesn’t know how to find people to fly with because they are not in the business of flying clubs,” he said.
Jones cited the example of a man who wants to buy an aircraft but help defray some of the cost. “If he lets us use his aircraft, we handle details including maintenance, transactions, instructors, and checkouts. I tell him he won’t make money, but I can help them defray some of his costs,” he said. “If I can use that aircraft for 10 hours a month, that helps us both. This is easier to do this rather than find partners, which is what makes us different from other flying clubs.”
The club currently has nine aircraft that it leases and makes available to its members, said Jones. It costs $300 to join the Sparrow Flying Club; members pay $39 a month in dues. “Our overall goal is to make flying affordable to the average Joe. In the 1980s, you could buy Cessna 152 in the $30-40,000 range, then rent it for $40 an hour,” he said. “It’s what I did. I could afford it as a college student.”
But now a Cessna 172 new is around $300,000, said Jones. “If I bought one and I rented it out, I’d have to charge $200 minimum an hour to use it, and that’s just not feasible for the average Joe,” he said. The club’s Cessna 172s rent for between $135 and $145 an hour; the Cessna 150 costs $95 to $115 an hour; and the Cessna 162 is $110 an hour.
There are no flight instructors that work for the club, said Jones. “But what we do is serve as [a] contact point in the area. If an instructor wants to teach, I’ll check them out, they join the club, and when students call we can recommend people,” said Jones. “The person learning to fly is paying the instructor directly.”
The club offers free ground school on Saturdays for members. “We want to help our members be current, qualified, and confident in their ability. So we try and help by providing ongoing education,” said Jones. “Once a month, we do a club breakfast.”
Jones said that the Sparrow Flying Club model is one that he would like to see replicated. “I’ve met with groups who have asked the question on how to start a flying club but have no idea of how to do it,” he said.
His main piece of advice? “Talk to an attorney, get a good set of operating rules and set it up the way you want. Then get your board in place and find an aircraft,” said Jones. “Be in contact with a good insurance broker and be open with them on what you want to do.”
AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.
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