February 21, 2014
By Benét J. Wilson
The Congressional Flying Club, formed in 1951 and located in Maryland’s Montgomery County Airpark, has managed to survive despite being located with the Washington, D.C., Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA).
Today, dealing with SFRA is standard operating procedure and not a big deal, just part of the process, said club president Piotr Kulczakowicz. “But when the D.C. [Air Defense Identification Zone]/SFRA was introduced, it was simply devastating. We had more than 70 members, a membership waiting list and five aircraft in the club's fleet. We flew a solid 200-plus hours per airplane,” he said. “[The] D.C. SFRA made some pilots leave the club, completely leave aviation, or move to airfields outside the area. SFRA, combined with drastic fuel prices increases and the tanking U.S. economy was simply a disaster from which our club is still recovering. But we are past the bottom.”
Now, with very rare exceptions, there isn’t much of a negative impact from the SFRA anymore, said Kulczakowicz. “But the D.C. SFRA continues to impact cost of flying and training out of Montgomery Air Park, as most instructors prefer to exit SFRA for flight maneuvers, which adds 30-40 minutes of almost idle time to each flight lesson.”
The club has 35 members from a variety of backgrounds, said Kulczakowicz. “Ten years or so ago, we still had many veterans who had been club members for a long time. Over the past few years, we lost many of them, not only to age, but also to Florida or other retirement destinations,” he said. “The demographics of the clubs have definitely changed and the process continues. Our youngest member is now 16 year old, working on his private pilot certificate and thinks about pursuing aviation related career.”
One of the club’s pilots is a retiree who got his private pilot certificate and IFR rating when over age 60. “What unifies all the members is a passion for aviation and the need to be a part of a cohesive, aviation focused social group. What differentiates our club from other present on the field is the social aspect,” said. Kulczakowicz. “We meet every week. We share our knowledge and experiences and discuss club matters openly in formal meetings. Typically, there is a large group of members continuing the meeting in the form of less formal 'after-meeting-meeting' in a local venue, a long time club tradition.”
People who join the Congressional Flying Club tend to be interested in joining an experienced pilot community that always has something going on around aviation, said Kulczakowicz. “They tend to look for and form a long-term relationship. People who just seek to rent a plane would typically be not interested in our club and are deterred by some of our requirements, such as the requirement to contribute 20 work hours to the benefit of the club,” he said. “We had a few members who joined just to obtain training at a competitive cost and with easy access to training aircraft and were gone as soon as they got their ticket. The club tries to actively weed out this type of members. We strive for a long-term membership with true commitment to the club.” The Congressional Flying Club operates as a nonprofit 501(c)(7).
The club has a Cessna Skyhawk 172M and 172N, along with a Cardinal and Skylane. All four aircraft have IFR-equipped Garmin GPS. “We also have a Cessna Skylane C812R that is allocated by the Civil Air Patrol to the Montgomery Senior Squadron, based at GAI. Only CAP members can fly in it.”
Club members pay a $700 nonrefundable fee to join, with monthly dues of $63. Social members pay $31.50 a month. The club’s basic trainer, the 172N costs $106 per hour, tach and wet, said Kulczakowicz.
The club has eight CFIs, with four of them active. “We have four primary students currently, although only two appear to be pursuing the flight training in a focused and goal oriented manner,” said Kulczakowicz.
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