Now taking off: Monticello Flying Club

New entity offers club formation tips

September 9, 2013

The Monticello Flying Club, based in Charlottesville, Va., is a new club that is working with its local flight school for reduced aircraft rental rates and to help build membership.

The club was incorporated on April 22, with five members, said President Mike Vanderweide. “We purchased a Mooney M20F in July, which we are already enjoying flying,” he said.

There were many reasons to start the Monticello Flying Club, said Vanderweide. “First, our airport is a commercial airport and while there is general aviation, there really is not a GA community, so one of our goals is to create that community. Second, we were tired of getting checked out on the flight school's complex aircraft only to have them yanked away by the person leasing them back to the school,” he said. 

“Third, we wanted to be able to walk out to the aircraft outside of the flight school hours. Finally, we wanted more control over the maintenance, equipping, availability, and management of the aircraft we flew.”

Vanderweide called AOPA a “tremendous help” in forming the club. “I also contacted a number of flying clubs around us to get help,” he said. “Finally, I built strong relations with the local flight school, charter service, and the airport operations company to get their buy-in and support.”

Vanderweide also made lots of cold phone calls and sent emails introducing himself and asking questions. “Most of what we were doing had already been done by someone else, so there was no reason to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

The club was formed as a 501(c)(7) nonprofit social club, said Vanderweide. “We did this to simplify our tax reporting and to make local resources more willing to help us for free. Even though they can't deduct their help, they are more willing to help when they don't think you are trying to make a profit,” he said.

There are currently six members, with a goal of getting 10 more before looking for the club’s next aircraft, said Vanderweide.

Vanderweide said he involved club members when choosing the Mooney. “The trick to selecting an aircraft for us was to have the founding/perspective members identify their mission,” he said. “Most of our members wanted a fast, four-seater aircraft for cross-country flights that didn't burn a lot of fuel. The Mooney M20F is the most efficient aircraft for that mission.”

"The club paid for the Mooney by having some members pay their full equity share and took out a loan for the rest with club members,” said Vanderweide. “We are charging those that did not pay full equity an additional monthly fee and principal contribution to cover the principal and interest on the loan.”

The club has different membership levels. A social membership costs $20 to join and $40 a year membership fee. A regular basic membership is a refundable $500 initial principal contribution, plus a refundable $25 per month principal contribution. There is also a non-refundable $75 monthly dues, plus $22.50 monthly loan fee. A regular plus membership is a refundable $6,500 principal contribution, with monthly dues of $75.  

The aircraft costs $40 an hour dry, tach time.

Having a good policy on letting members leave can be something that influences the success of a club, said Vanderweide.  “Our club will pay back anyone's contribution with a 90-day advanced warning. Many clubs make members sell their membership to a new member, which can actually scare new members away if they think that it will be very difficult to get out if their financial situation changes,” he said. “I know several clubs that have this problem of stuck members wanting to get out and scared potential members not wanting to join.”

Flight instruction is not available with the club because the local flight school is very competent and has been very helpful, said Vanderweide. “They are also sending newly minted pilots our way. By not doing private tickets, we are avoiding competing with them for a large portion of their students, keeping our insurance significantly lower, and keeping our maintenance lower by reducing hard landings and bald tires,” he said. “This keeps a good relationship and reduces our costs. The only situation where we would offer private ticket instruction would be if the local flight school ceased operation.”

Vanderweide offered advice for those in the planning  stages of  starting a 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,” he said. “People don't want to join a club that doesn't have a plane.”

Second, building relationships with neighbors at the airport is key, said Vanderweide. “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,” he said. “Finally, pick good members. Members should be quality over quantity. One bad member can make your other members flee very quickly.”

Benét Wilson

Benét J. Wilson | AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor

AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.