June 3, 2014
By Benét J. Wilson
Camaraderie and continuing education opportunities are two aspects of why pilots join flying clubs. But, pilots told AOPA they also join because it makes sense financially: They get access to familiar aircraft at a lower cost. Members of Air Coeur, Penn Yan Flying Club, and Cascade Flyers share the benefits they receive from being a member of a flying club.
Jeff Fouche is a founding member of the Air Coeur flying club in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, formed in July 2013. “Flying clubs are an unbeatable way to drive down the fixed costs of flying an aircraft in which you have an ownership interest. I needed affordable access to a complex airplane, and starting a club was a fantastic way to spread that cost,” he said. “Additional benefits include getting greasy with fellow members while maintaining our airplane, sharing in their experience, and building new relationships. The airplanes like to be flown more, too.”
The club currently has four members, said Fouche. “But we are considering expanding to seven or eight members and adding a second aircraft, which will enable us to open non-equity memberships to further spread the cost of ownership and expand social opportunities,” he said.
Air Coeur has a 1965 Mooney M20C, said Fouche. “The equity buy-in is $12,500, and monthly dues are $130. We charge ourselves $85 wet on the tach to fly our airplane,” he said.
The club has regular wash days, said Fouche. “And we have a quarterly club meeting where we discuss safety, flying our airplane, and anything else of importance,” he said.
Harvey Greenberg said that all of his aviation experience has come from flying clubs. He’s been a member of New York’s Penn Yan Flying Club since 2007, and has been a member of several U.S. Air Force Aero Clubs. He learned to fly at the Wright-Patterson Aero Club in 1978.
“I decided to join a flying club because they offer affordable flying, teach safety, and they are social,” said Greenberg. Penn Yan has 120 members who have access to a Piper Cub, a Cessna 150, a Cessna 172, and a Piper PA-28 Cherokee.
The club’s initiation is $300, and then members pay dues of $45 a month. The aircraft rates run from $55 an hour to $89 an hour. “We run one of the largest fly-in breakfasts anywhere, with more than 2,600 people” showing up, said Greenberg.
Tory Tolton has been involved in flying clubs since 2003, when he earned his instrument rating and commercial certificate. He is a member and former president of Cascade Flyers, a nonprofit, volunteer-driven club based at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. He also belongs to Evergreen Soaring, a glider club in Arlington.
After earning his private pilot certificate, Tolton began renting aircraft. “The whole rental thing is fine, but I was not flying in aircraft that I was as familiar with. I felt like it was nothing but a business transaction. I wasn’t meeting other pilots,” he said.
While working as a consultant for Microsoft, Tolton learned about Cascade Flyers on an internal bulletin board where a member was selling a club share. “It was a more cost-effective way to get access to the planes I wanted [to] fly,” he said. “I could become more familiar with aircraft and how they were maintained. That was the genesis of it. Clubs offer a much less expensive way to fly. Most clubs operate on a volunteer nonprofit basis. They don’t have the overhead that businesses do.”
Cascade Flyers has 30 members. “We limit the club to 30 members so that everyone’s share value is consistent,” said Tolton. “Also, it’s the right number for availability of the plane.” The club has a Cessna 182K and a Cessna 172M.
The buy-in for the club is determined by the share’s buyer and seller, said Tolton, but it has been in the $3,000 to $3,500 range. Dues are $77 a month, and the club has a half-hour monthly flight minimum. The Cessna 172 is $100 an hour, while the Cessna 182 is $150, with both aircraft using tach and wet rates.
Cascade Flyers is quite active, with events including a summer barbecue at the airport, an annual spring dinner, and several fly-outs, said Tolton. “We want to keep the social connection alive outside of flying,” he said.
Fouche, Tolton, and Greenberg all agree that flying clubs are a great option for pilots. “I met my late wife of 30 years at the Wright-Patterson Aero Club,” said Greenberg.
“If you are looking for a way to reduce the cost of flying, a club is a tough act to beat,” said Fouche. “There are certainly other ways to socialize with other pilots, like EAA meetings, airport association board meetings, hangar walks, and fly-ins, but a flying club is a good way to do that as well.”
Flying clubs are the best way to go, said Tolton. “You get a chance to meet people who fly for different reasons and hear about their experiences. And you can do this is in a way that’s cheaper than a partnership, ownership, or a rental situation,” he said. “Being in a club has kept me flying a long time. I got my private and commercial in a club. If I didn’t have that community, I’d let business of life get in the way and not fly as much.”
AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.
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