November 11, 2013
By Benét J. Wilson
It’s no surprise that the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, also has the Boeing Employees Flying Association (BEFA), a club with nearly 500 members and a fleet of between 18 and 22 aircraft.
The nonprofit club, based at Renton Airport, was formed in 1954 with five members who developed the concept, said Wes McKechnie, the club’s operations manager. (AOPA Pilot profiled the group in the February 2006 feature, "The boss says fly!," as the largest aviation company flying club or association.)
The club’s fleet of 18 aircraft includes three Cessna 150s, seven Cessna 172s, a Piper Warrior, a Citabria, a Cessna 172 on floats, a Cessna 182Q, two Cessna 182RGs, a Cirrus SR20, and a Cessna Turbo Centurion.
“We bounce between 18 and 22 aircraft over time. Our philosophy is to have a variety of aircraft to meet needs of our members. Our fleet ranges from simple standard steam gauge aircraft up to advanced technical aircraft,” said McKechnie. “We try and have something for everyone. It speaks to diversity of our membership.” The club also has two PCATD-M simulators and two Redbird FMX sims.
Boeing being Boeing, intelligent people work here who developed the structure that makes the club a success, said BEFA President Steve Beardslee. “We have a lot of spreadsheets where we analyzed the aircraft we have, the costs to operate them, and pare it down so the aircraft pay for themselves,” he said. “Our monthly fee covers insurance and operating expenses for the club. We have [an] atmosphere of a club but operate as a flight department.”
There are three levels of membership: Class I, at $550 for a share, covers the Cessna 150 and Cessna 172 or equivalent for students and training; Class II, at $650, covers all aircraft except the floatplane, complex and high-performance airplanes, and the Cirrus; and Class III, which covers the entire fleet, at $750. Members pay $100 monthly dues, which covers $2 million in liability and hull insurance, ground lease, attorney fees, and all the things to run a business, said Beardslee.
The club charges by Tach time, which ranges from $76.03 an hour for the Cessna 150 to $158.66 for the Cessna 182RG. The Centurian is $207.76 per Hobbs hour.
Members can take flight lessons from CFIs approved by the board, said McKechnie. “Not just anyone can instruct here. We do bring in outside talent. We want to improve the DNA of our organization, so we bring in people like Rich ‘the Spin Doctor’ Stowell for presentations,” he said. “We have a strong safety culture at Boeing.”
Boeing does not pay for employees’ flight training, said McKechnie. “But when employees provide proof of their solo, they get $500. And when they get their private pilot license, they get another $1,000,” he said. “We also have a 60-hour ground school and when they pass it with a grade of C or better, it will reimburse the cost of that.”
The club also offers pinch-hitter training for those flying with BEFA members. “It looked to us a good thing to add training for significant others or friends who didn’t qualify for membership or were just interested in learning,” said McKechnie. “It allows users to get hands-on training on how to handle an aircraft in an emergency. It also allows other people in a pilot’s life to share the experience. It’s more than just being a passenger. And our insurance company sees this as an added benefit.”
Beardslee said he’s seen other clubs were the function was more social. “We’re not like that. Our club is primarily a training organization and provider of aircraft for people to fly places, although we occasionally have social events,” he said. “We’re focused on letting people learn how to fly or develop their skills.”
McKechnie agreed. “There’s a lot of emphasis on continuing education,” he said. “It can also be pertinent to [our members’] jobs. The more they can learn about flying, the more it enhances their job skills.”
Although the company has historically been involved with BEFA, it has reduced its participation considerably as the club has evolved, said Beardslee. “We do support the company when asked. When engineers wanted to test a pin in the 787’s nacelle, they used one of our aircraft for that,” he said. “We’ve helped with customer support, worked with the Moscow Design Bureau on advanced design of general aviation aircraft, and help Boeing’s fire department host a biennial event on issues with GA and commercial aircraft.”
McKechnie and Beardslee had advice for clubs. “The first question you need to ask is if it will be for-profit or nonprofit,” said Beardslee.
When an organization reaches a certain size, it’s critical that they buck up and get professional staff, said McKechnie. “Our maintenance is done by a professional organization, led by a director of maintenance who handles the heavy lifting,” he said. “This is critical, especially when you reach a certain size. Just bite the bullet and do it.”
Beardslee also stressed the legacy of BEFA as a key reason why it is successful. “We are standing on the shoulders of 60 years’ worth of members,” he said. “New clubs need to keep that in mind for the generations coming up.”
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AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.