Our Flying Club Initiative

December 15, 2012

Adam Smith, Senior VP, Center to Advance the Pilot Community

Welcome to the first issue of the Flying Club Connector! AOPA’s research has shown us that flying clubs leaders are hungry to learn more about the practical experiences of other clubs. So we have created this monthly e-newsletter to keep you connected with useful news, information, and good ideas from flying clubs around the nation.

We’ll also use the newsletter to keep you informed about AOPA’s Flying Clubs Initiative, which will be a big part of the new Center to Advance the Pilot Community. Here’s a quick progress report—there has been much recent activity so we have some catching-up to do!

To learn more about my own background, and how the Flying Clubs Initiative fits into AOPA’s overall plan to reverse the decline in the pilot population, here’s a link to an article I wrote for Air Facts journal.

The Initiative was formally launched at AOPA Summit in Palm Springs on October 12, where we revealed the results of our extensive research into flying clubs . Thanks to everyone who helped this work by participating in online surveys, phone interviews and focus groups. The process generated lots of data that will be useful in the coming months and years; but more importantly it’s got AOPA convinced that flying clubs can play a significant role in reversing the overall decline in the pilot population.

Clubs offer a compelling mix of affordability, community and—more often than not—good quality flight instruction. They are an excellent entry (or re-entry) point into aviation and one of the most important things that AOPA can do is to start directing potential customers towards flying clubs. With this in mind, we launched the first version of a Flying Club Finder in October. Right now it is pretty basic, but we are already working on features such as integration with Google Maps and the ability for clubs to update their own entry.

Future versions of the Flying Club Finder also will help clubs that are in the process of forming. We think that about 650 flying clubs already exist in the USA but with 5,200 public use airports there is plenty of room for growth. In November, more than 600 people registered for a webinar titled “Starting a Flying Club” which shows a good amount of interest in the subject. We have set ourselves a goal to grow the number of flying clubs to 1,000 within the next five years, and are working on a Starter Kit plus other resources that will help new clubs get started.

We started a Facebook Group for Flying Clubs (Facebook login required for access) to provide a place to ask questions, share experiences, etc. This grew very rapidly to more than 1,600 members within just a few weeks, at least ten times the number of people we expected!  I encourage all flying clubs to create a Facebook page. It’s free, and a great way to market your club. The East Hill Flying Club page is a perfect example of what you can achieve.

Meanwhile, we have been working on myriad other tasks that need to be accomplished in bringing a new program to life. These include:

  • Sifting through more than 80 resumes and conducting interviews for the newly-created position of Flying Clubs Manager here at HQ. This is an important hire for the program, and we hope to announce the successful candidate in the next newsletter.
  • Conducting lots of media interviews to promote the concept of flying clubs. This has generated lots of positive coverage, summarized in the “Flying Clubs in the News” section of this newsletter, but I would like to draw your attention to an excellent piece by Flying Magazine’s editor Robert Goyer .
  • We have started to invite Clubs, formally into the AOPA Flying Club Network. There is no cost to join; we are simply asking that each club sign a statement of shared values. Before the end of the year we plan to contact each existing club with an invitation to join the network, but if you’re ready to go ahead and sign up right now, here’s the place to do it.

The early days of a new program can be both exciting and exhausting. We really appreciate all the support and encouragement that’s been received here at AOPA headquarters. A very clear message has come through that the aviation community supports what we are trying to do, and believe me that really helps keep us all motivated!

Adam Smith
Senior VP, Center to Advance the Pilot Community