Flying club leaders share advice for effective clubs

December 27, 2013

It has been quite a year in the growth of the AOPA Flying Club Network. AOPA Online has published weekly profiles on flying clubs since the creation of the network, and in every story, club leaders offer advice for other new and existing clubs. Check out the advice from 10 flying club leaders—what you learn could help you start a new club or grow an existing one.

Garry Ackerman, president of the North Texas Flying Club (one of the 11 pathfinder clubs chosen to help create the AOPA Flying Club Network): First, you have to realize that over the life of the club, the economy will drive the viability of the club, so you need to be able to react to changes. Second, don’t underestimate amount of work it takes to operate a club, even with one aircraft. It’s a fair amount of work involved, but along with that work, there is the reward.

Mike Proctor, president of the Lexington Flying Club: "Charge enough to cover expenses and save for those engine overhauls. Avoid one-time assessments for big ticket items. Don’t do in-house mechanic work. Make that an arms-length business transaction."

Bob Joyner, treasurer of the NC86 Flying Club: "New clubs should focus on compatibility during the formation process. If there are squawks in the club, you need to address them immediately. Having compatible members ensures that people are respectful when reserving our planes. Finally, it’s important to keep your equipment well maintained."

Steve Tupper, member of the Detroit Tuskegee Airmen Glider Club: "Think really hard about core values and what you want to do as pilots. Hangar flying and $100 hamburgers are all well and good, but a club can catch fire and become amazing if [it] identifies and pursues a mission. Having a mission makes a club a team. It has made all of the difference for us and it has irrevocably changed my flying."

Kelly Bakst, maintenance officer of the Eight Ball Flying Club: "Ask questions of existing organizations. Use our bylaws and operating rules and try not to re-invent the wheel.  We've been doing this a long time, and have been through a lot of painful lessons." Sixty-five people, five planes, and a lot of expenses is tough for a small group of volunteers if you don't know what you are doing.

Brandon Ellis, president of the Knoxville Flyers, Inc.: "Find aircraft financing. The hardest thing for a club to do is obtain financing without someone having to have board members sign on as personal guarantors for a loan, which no one is going to do. So seek out local banks because they can see work with clubs. Larger banks are slaves to what the computer tells them. So give back to your local community and form those relationships."

Ed Miller, secretary of the Phoenix Flyers: "Create a solid core group of volunteers with aircraft ownership knowledge to keep things running smoothly. Members who are adept at performing routine maintenance items on the aircraft will help keep costs down. You might want to consider a monthly stipend for these individuals as they are very valuable and will save considerably on the costs associated with maintaining your aircraft. It is important that each member considers themselves an owner and not just a renter, as this will result in the members taking better care of the aircraft."

Mike Vanderweide, president of the Monticello Flying Club: "First, you can never make it `no risk.’ At some point, your founding members have to commit to a plane that meets the primary mission, get financing, and take a risk that the rest of the members will follow. Building relationships with neighbors at the airport is key. This is a word-of-mouth business, and if you get a bad reputation or upset people, you will have a hard time getting members or operating well at the field. Finally, pick good members. Members should be quality over quantity. One bad member can make your other members flee very quickly."

Bhaskar Reddy, president of the Kalamazoo High Flyers Club: "Induct members who not only want to fly but are passionate enough to be active as club officers, taking on various responsibilities from time to time. The more experienced members can provide vision and direction based on past lessons. Talk to other flying clubs to see what they are doing differently and benefit from that advice. [Hangar] flying is just as important as actual flying, especially during off season, as it keeps the spirit going among the group, and creates a sense of camaraderie."

David Osborn, president of the Flying Particles: "Newer clubs should get advice from other well-established clubs or AOPA on how to structure governance and policies. A 20- to 100-member club is quite different than a three-member partnership, and you want to design the club to provide the right incentives to each type of member so that they and the club each benefit from the relationship. Emphasize to potential members that a nonprofit flying club can reduce the fixed costs of flying while simultaneously forming a community where they can learn from fellow pilots and instructors."