A flying club is born

February 13, 2013

David Miller, a retired Air Force officer and Iraq war veteran had a dream—he not only wanted to get back into flying, he wanted to get back into the social swing of general aviation with like-minded people, and give back to the next generation. To that end, he is in the process of creating the Flying Club at Lakeland, based at Florida’s Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, home of Sun ’n Fun.

He is working with partner David Harbaugh and airport director Gene Conrad to make his dream a reality by May. “Harbaugh came to me from the Austin Flying Club in Colo., and we discussed how we could have that atmosphere here in Florida,” Miller said. “Then the AOPA Flying Clubs initiative came up, and it all made sense.”

Miller and Harbaugh looked at different airports in the region to base their club. “We needed a facility with ramp space and a flight school, since we don’t want to do training,” he said. “Lakeland Linder was the perfect location. They were actually getting ready to start their own flying club when we walked through the door.”

Conrad agreed. “Actually, I wanted a flying club for selfish reasons. We’re trying to drive as much activity here as possible,” he said. “We have one million square feet of space, a new flight school and we sit in the heart of central Florida, so we were a great fit for this club.”

In starting the club’s recruitment efforts, Miller put informational flyers in every airport within 50 miles of Lakeland. “Gene was kind enough to send out an email to all of his airport tenants, which brought in quite a few potential members,” he said. “We also went into the FAA database and looked up by zip code, found 250 pilots, and sent out letters to them. We also got a lot of interest after the local Osprey Observer newspaper did an article on us.”

Miller created a list of milestones from January through May that serves as a guide for creating the club. Those milestones include creating an interim board; sending out flyers to generate interest; determining membership costs; draft and approve bylaws; file articles of incorporation; execute aircraft agreements with owners; contract with Lakeland Linder for office space and hangars; start collecting club dues; and hold first membership meeting. The club will be a nonprofit, and “we hope to achieve tax-exempt status as an educational social organization,” he added.

The club is looking at aircraft including different light sport aircraft, the Cessna 152 and 172, along with the Piper Archer and Warrior, said Miller. “I’d like to have one aircraft for every 12 members, and we’d share those fixed costs,” he said. “We’re looking at an initiation fee of $100, monthly dues of between $50 and $60, and aircraft user fees of between $40 and $80 an hour.”

Miller has only spent $500 to get the club started. “Once the membership agreements come in, they will include the initiation fee, and we’ll use that money to incorporate the club,” he said. We’ll also start receiving monthly dues, which will cover our fixed costs. The Tach costs will go directly to aircraft owners or toward 100-hour maintenance inspections.”

In five years, Miller hopes that the Flying Club at Lakeland will “have somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 aircraft and 350 members.” They are out there, he said, noting there are more than 1,600 aircraft based in the two counties near the airport.

“And if you look at the number of pilots we have, many of them are not flying because of the cost,” said Miller. “Our club wants to get them flying again.”