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It's difficult to draw a line between club organization and club operations. If a club is organized properly, it will have a good chance of running smoothly because operating guidelines and procedures will be established in the articles of incorporation, bylaws, operating rules, or operations manual. But if a club isn't organized properly, it will collapse almost as fast as a flimsy tent in a windstorm.
Of course, good organization alone doesn't guarantee smooth operations. Meetings must be held, aircraft have to be maintained, a good scheduling system has to be worked out, a safety program needs to be "built in" to club operations, and good records have to be kept for all club activities. As in any successful undertaking, running a club takes a lot of hard work by a dedicated membership. Following are some tips that will be helpful in keeping a club running smoothly.
A good scheduling system will eliminate many potential problems and go a long way toward ensuring harmonious operations. It must provide all members an opportunity to use the airplane regularly as well as be flexible enough to allow for extended trips. The type of schedule a club uses depends on the number of members per airplane, how often they fly, and what type of flying they do. Online scheduling is quite popular because it allows easy access for each member.
In clubs with no more than five members, airplane scheduling duties can be assigned to each member for a week at a time. All other members wanting to fly can contact the member in charge for that week to see if they can get on the schedule. It's an equitable way to rotate both the use and the scheduling responsibility among all club members.
Another common system involves scheduling the airplane on a strictly first-come, first-served basis. Each week or month a new signup sheet is posted so members can indicate when they want to fly. Limits should be placed on the number of reservations a member can make in a week, and special arrangements should be made for extended trips.
If all members do their flying primarily on weekends and holidays, club members must be especially cooperative so that everyone who wants to fly gets a fair chance to use the airplane. A good scheduling system for this situation would be to divide each day into three parts: morning, midday, and late afternoon, then assign each member a particular time slot on a rotating basis. For example, member "A" will be scheduled for Saturday morning one week, Saturday midday the next, and Saturday late afternoon the next. The schedule should be posted at the airport so each member knows exactly what is going on. If a member doesn't show up by his scheduled time, or within a reasonable grace period, the airplane can automatically go to the next member or be released on a first-come, first-served basis.
Members should be able to trade times and dates as they like, but the scheduling officer should always know who has the airplane and where it is. An aircraft sign-out sheet should be posted next to the schedule at the airport, and members should be required to sign the sheet whenever they take the aircraft. Penalties should be imposed upon any member inconsiderate enough to keep the airplane past the scheduled time without adequate notice. In today's world, online scheduling is very popular and often used, even for clubs. No need to go to the airport to find out the airplane is gone.
A good maintenance program helps keep an airplane in the air, not sitting idly on the ground chewing up club funds. Aircraft upkeep is the responsibility of the maintenance officer who should ensure timely inspections, repairs, and modifications. Aircraft record keeping is also part of the maintenance officer's task.
Maintenance can be divided into three categories:
To keep the program under control, the maintenance officer should be the only member authorized to approve repairs. An exception could be made for minor repairs that affect airworthiness so any club member can have the plane repaired while away from the home field. For example, replacing a flat tire in order to continue a trip should not need the approval of the maintenance officer. There should be a maximum expenditure placed on minor repairs so that, beyond a certain cost, all repairs are clearly defined as major and must be approved by the maintenance officer.
A limit should also be placed on the amount of money the maintenance officer can spend without consulting the entire membership. In extreme cases, repair costs may be so high that a club will want to buy another airplane rather than repair the one it already owns.
Regular inspections are among the most important ingredients of a successful maintenance program. Since most club aircraft are flown by many different pilots, commercial standards of maintenance might well be applied, including 100-hour inspections in addition to the required annual inspection. Not only is this an added safety factor, it could help save money by catching minor repairs before they become major ones. The frequency of inspections and service intervals could be higher or lower, but either way it's a club decision and should be agreed upon by the majority of the membership.
A pilot can legally perform some kinds of work on an airplane without the assistance of a certificated mechanic. Because not all pilots are mechanically inclined, each club should have specific rules governing who can and who cannot perform aircraft maintenance. Each member willing to do maintenance work should be checked out by the maintenance officer to ensure competence. A club may wish to credit such "skilled labor" time against dues and flying time charges. The more work members do, the more money the club can save in shop charges. Before embarking on such a program, club members should consider the local FBO's situation and the airport's operations standards. (See the section titled "Relationships with Fixed Base Operators and Airport Authorities.")
Flying clubs commonly hold three types of meetings: business, social, and training. All three may be combined into a single session, but it's important to conduct the business portion of the meeting in a formal and business like manner. Club officers are responsible for establishing and following a standard agenda according to parliamentary procedure while the secretary is responsible for keeping accurate, detailed minutes. If the business of the club isn't handled responsibly, the club may not be around long enough to hold social or training meetings.
For some clubs, social meetings are one of the main reasons for existence, and they can be anything the club chooses—as long as they're fun! Some ideas are fly-ins to resort areas, flight competitions between club members or with other clubs, FAA facility tours, films, speakers, group air tours, or even get-togethers at the airport to wash the airplane.
Speakers are easy to find if club members use a little imagination. For example, the local banker can talk about aircraft and club financing, attorneys can speak on liability and other legal subjects, flight service personnel and air traffic controllers can talk about using the ATC system, and there's always the local airport manager and government officials who might deal with current local issues of concern to aviators. The biggest advantage to having local speakers is that they are familiar with local conditions and can gear their remarks to what's happening on the home front.
A "ground school" meeting doesn't have to be as boring or as limited as it might sound. It can be used to increase general knowledge and proficiency, or to help members prepare for certificates and ratings. Ground school meetings can also be used to acquaint members with changes in regulations, prepare members for biennial flight reviews, familiarize them with new equipment, review problem areas in piloting technique, teach maintenance and safety procedures or survival techniques. There are many aids available to help structure a ground school course, but it should always be taught by a certificated flight or ground school instructor. Special courses, like survival training, should be taught by someone skilled in that field. Manufacturers' representatives and FAA personnel could be invited to attend the appropriate sessions.
Club members come and go, and a club should have a good system for attracting new members. If membership gets too low, each current member will have to take on a bigger financial burden to help keep the club afloat. And if membership stays low, a club may have to sell one of its aircraft to keep financially sound.
The most common, easiest and least expensive way to recruit new members is through friendships or personal contacts with current members. Other methods include posting notices on the airport bulletin board, advertising in newspapers and aviation publications, getting a listing in the yellow pages, or running a direct mail campaign to all the pilots in the area.
Prospective members should be given a brochure explaining the club's activities and the requirements for membership. It's also a good idea to include a copy of the club's constitution and bylaws so potential members know as much as possible about the club before joining. In return, prospects should fill out a questionnaire that includes information about their aviation background; occupation; credit and character references; hobbies; club sponsor; and whether they intend to use the airplane for business, pleasure, or training.
The club should run a thorough reference check on all prospects before admitting them to the club. After this has been done, it's up to the club to either approve or deny membership. Small clubs may want to require the approval of all current members before accepting a new member, while large clubs will probably only require majority approval or let the final decision be handled by the management staff, membership committee, or the Board of Directors (if applicable).
The initiation fee for new members is based on a prorated share of equity in the club's assets (see the section on Depreciation and Equity). And a club may want to charge an additional small fee to reflect the expense of initially forming the club.
Keeping good records is a fundamental part of managing any organization, including a flying club. Good records should be kept for flight time, maintenance, and business transactions. Some prefer to keep the records online; others keep notebooks or paper files.
The basic flight time form should contain space for the date, tachometer readings before and after each flight, and the member's signature. A more complete form might include an area for airplane squawks, type of flight (local, cross-country, etc.), fuel used (cash or credit), and any other information that would be useful in billing members and recording an airplane's activity. Naturally, the form should be in duplicate with one copy for the member and one copy for the treasurer. An aircraft sign-out sheet with space for the above information can be posted at the airport or online in lieu of the flight time form. It is wise to have a place on this form to indicate that the squawk has been addressed, who signed it off, and when. Remember that open squawks can be viewed as an un-airworthy airplane.
Aircraft and engine logbooks are the basic maintenance records for any aircraft. Parts 91 and 43 of the Federal Aviation Regulations specify what maintenance records must be kept to satisfy the FAA, including preventive maintenance work on the aircraft. In addition to these requirements, a club may also want to keep records on the cost of maintenance, service life of equipment, and malfunction and defect reports. A major benefit to keeping records beyond those required by law shows up when it's time to sell the club airplane. Potential buyers will be favorably impressed if they can go through the records and get a complete history of the airplane, and they'll feel better about purchasing it when they can see the time and effort that was put into keeping it in good shape. These records are also a way of putting your best foot forward when it comes to introducing potential new members to the club facilities.
Last, but not least, are the business records. Even the smallest clubs must keep accurate records of meetings, club transactions, member billings, and all other financial activity. If necessary, consult an accountant, especially at tax time.
A flying club that is properly organized has a better chance of operating smoothly, but it takes attention to detail and dedication from the members to make it happen. Each member must be willing to contribute his share of time and be willing to give a little extra when necessary. There is no such thing as a laissez-faire flying club. There are, however, many laissez-faire former flying clubs.
Several important areas of operation that need special attention are scheduling, maintenance, meetings, membership, and financial records.
Scheduling must be reasonable and fair so that all members get a chance to fly and the aircraft gets maximum utilization. There are many ways to set up a schedule including having a schedule officer handle all scheduling; putting each member in charge of scheduling for a week at a time; posting a signup sheet and letting members schedule on a first-come, first-served basis; or assigning each member a particular time of day, such as morning, midday, or late afternoon. A good scheduling system will keep the majority of members happy while meeting the needs of the club.
A good maintenance program is essential for keeping an airplane in the air. Members may be able to participate in the program by performing certain preventive maintenance, but the club's maintenance officer is normally the only person allowed to authorize major repairs. In certain situations, individual club members could be allowed to authorize minor repairs that affect airworthiness, such as changing a flat tire.
New members are important to every club. They help keep a club stable by keeping dues down and providing a source of additional capitalization if a club wants to expand. And any enthusiastic new member can help make club flying more enjoyable. All clubs should screen prospective members and develop a system for approving or rejecting membership applications. This can require approval of all or a majority of the members, or it can be left up to the management staff or Board of Directors.
An ongoing recruitment campaign and an eager waiting list are valuable assets. A flight training program can be used to "grow your own" new members, and a big enough waiting list can be converted into an additional club aircraft with more flexibility for everyone.
Clubs should always keep good records of club business, finances, and aircraft maintenance. They can benefit clubs by letting officers and members identify trends that will affect the club's health. If special help is needed from an accountant, a club should quickly enlist the necessary assistance.
Clubs should keep in mind that if they begin to offer flight training, most airport operating arrangements may require the club to meet minimum standards for a limited FBO business and register with the airport as such. Large clubs may be denied such approval if, in the opinion of airport management, competition with existing FBOs becomes a factor. FAA allows airports this discretion.
Updated October, 2011
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