When it comes to general aviation, safety is one of the most talked about subjects. It is usually discussed from a negative point of view. Accidents do happen. Flying clubs are not immune, but they can and often do maintain accident-free records, reaping the direct benefit of keeping insurance rates as low as possible. Developing sound safety programs and fostering safety conscious attitudes among members are key elements in accident prevention.
Safety is everyone's responsibility, but the creation, development, and updating of safety programs should be coordinated by the club's operations or safety officer. Safety information and safety standards should be included in the club's bylaws or standard operating procedures manual, and each member should receive a copy of the information. It would be a good precaution to have club members sign a release that says they have read and understand all safety regulations.
A good place to begin a safety program is with the creation of a safety committee made up of club instructors, officers, board members, or a combination of all three. These people are usually, but not always, the most experienced and best qualified to design and implement a club's safety program. Don't overlook a veteran member, though, who has lots of experience and knows the ropes but, for whatever reason, has chosen not to get an instructor certificate or be a club officer. The knowledge that such a person contributes could be invaluable to a club's safety record.
Once the safety committee has been formed, the next step is to develop a set of safety standards that apply specifically to the club, its members, and the aircraft they fly. Naturally, each club will vary in terms of pilot qualifications, experience, club purpose, complexity of aircraft, and other matters relating to safety, so it is best to tailor safety standards accordingly.
To ensure good safety practices, clubs must take the necessary steps to deal with the minority of pilots who don't follow safe operating procedures. Violations of club standards should lead to penalties or disciplinary action, including temporary suspension of privileges or expulsion from the club. Obviously, the punishment should fit the crime, and it is up to the safety committee to establish fair guidelines.
Broadly speaking, safety standards should deal with everything directly and indirectly involved with flying an airplane. This section lists a few of the safety standards a club may wish to set.
A club would be wise to keep accurate records of each member's qualifications, and even issue ID cards listing those qualifications such as student, private, VFR-day only, VFR-day and night, IFR, and so on. With an ID card, there can be no doubt as to exactly the type of flights each member is allowed to make. Cards can also tell each instructor or club check pilot the qualifications of the pilots he or she is flying with. This eliminates all doubt as to who is qualified to do what.
The most stringent and comprehensive standards should deal with proficiency and recency of flight experience. Members should be encouraged to fly a minimum number of hours during a specified period of time. One good rule of thumb might be to expect members to fly one or two hours and complete three takeoffs and landings every 90 days. Student pilots might be asked to fly a minimum of one hour every 30 days. Failure to stay "current" could be a reason to withdraw student solo privileges in club aircraft, and any pilot failing to meet the proficiency requirements could be required to take a check ride with a club instructor before being released for solo flight.
It is possible for a club to build proficiency requirements into its dues structure. Members could be required to pay for a certain number of hours each month whether or not they actually flew. This would encourage them to fly regularly and keep current as well as promote maximum utilization of the aircraft.
To make this work, members could be allowed to accumulate their "minimum flying time" for up to three months or the same time frame as the club's proficiency requirements. For example, if the required monthly flying fee was $50, each member could build up $150 worth of credit in any 90-day period. If a member remained current by flying the minimum number of hours without flying during every month, his or her account would be credited or debited accordingly. However, if a member failed to fly within the prescribed time period, he or she would be responsible for continuing to pay the monthly aircraft rental fee but would forfeit any amount over the maximum permitted accumulation. At the same time, that member would be ineligible to fly until satisfactorily completing a check ride.
Additional proficiency requirements could be added to suit a club's particular needs. For instance, club members with instrument ratings might be required to meet proficiency standards beyond those stipulated in the Federal Aviation Regulations. Minimum proficiency requirements could be set for each type of aircraft a club owns, with stricter requirements applying to sophisticated aircraft. Or club members could be required to meet proficiency requirements based on specialized types of flying such as winter, mountain, or seaplane flying.
An excellent safety standard applicable to every flying club is a mandatory annual check ride. Regardless of how much or how little members fly, each member should complete a check ride each year. This requirement will help keep piloting techniques sharp and, through recurrent training, catch bad habits before they have become firmly entrenched.
Club instructors should be checked out by the chief pilot, and the chief pilot should be checked out by a competent designee selected by the board of directors. Such a check ride should apply to all members. To help ease the cost, the check ride could be credited against the required monthly aircraft rental fee, if that is part of a club's dues structure.
A few other requirements, which may seem like common sense procedures, should be considered for inclusion in the safety regulations. These requirements might include a thorough preflight, including a visual check for fuel; mandatory filing of flight plans for any trip beyond a 50-mile radius of the home airport; a weather briefing for any flight; and use of current charts. It may seem almost absurd to have such elementary requirements, but many a pilot has taken an airplane into bad situations that could easily have been avoided.
Mandatory attendance at one or two ground school sessions per year could enhance the safety awareness of club members. For example, at the onset of each winter, members could be required to attend a refresher meeting on winter flying. Other sessions could be held to review critical areas such as weather, stall-spin avoidance, emergency procedures, high performance aircraft, or other subjects of special importance to the club.
According to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, these are areas of safety concern. Flying club rules should be developed in response to them:
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation provides online articles, publications, and courses, as well as DVDs, addressing these kinds of safety issues.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of safety regulations for flying clubs. Each club should determine its own needs and then tailor a set of safety regulations to meet them. The regulations should be developed by the safety committee and agreed upon by all the members or a majority if the club is large. Each member should get a personal copy of the regulations, and no member should be exempt from them.
What may appear to be simply common sense procedures, such as preflighting an airplane, should not be overlooked as possible club safety regulations. And a club need not limit its regulations to those required by the Federal Aviation Regulations. In fact, it may be a good idea for a club to go beyond the FARs in terms of safety. Anything practical that can be done to increase safety awareness and improve safety practices should be done. It contributes to peace of mind, and sets the stage for a better accident record for general aviation.
Updated October, 2011
AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.