Can we operate an experimental aircraft in a flying club environment?
This is common question from AOPA members who are thinking about adding an experimental aircraft or an E-LSA to their flying club fleets or starting up a club with one. The answer is yes, and no. Let me explain.
FAR 91.319 provides guidance on operating limitations for all types of experimental aircraft. The regulation clearly prohibits operating an experimental aircraft for compensation or hire, and tells us experimental aircraft cannot be leased.
FAR 91.319 would prohibit an experimental aircraft from being operated in a traditional rental fleet, but non-profit flying clubs normally fall outside this definition. Compliance with the prohibition on leasing will depend on the way that the flying club is structured.
How a club can operate an experimental aircraft
Most flying clubs are either equity or non-equity ownership models. If the flying club is organized in an equity model, each club member is an owner of the aircraft. This would not activate FAR 91.319(f), since each member of the club owns an equity share of the aircraft. Therefore the aircraft would not be operated with a lease agreement as it would be the aircraft owner flying his own airplane. So, in this scenario the flying club would be able to operate an experimental aircraft within the operating limitations of the airplane’s airworthiness certificate.
The same could not be said of a non-equity model, since the club member does not own a share of the aircraft. The aircraft would be leased to the flying club which would be in direct contradiction to the intent of the regulation. In this scenario the club member is technically not an owner of the aircraft, so this type of club would be in violation of FAR 91.319(f).
Adding an experimental aircraft to your club fleet may be an economical method to increase options for club membership. Be aware that it is outside of the standard industry model and is likely to require some more effort to place into operation. Obtaining insurance coverage is likely to be the biggest hurdle, so think about including your insurance agent early in the discussion. A number of flying clubs do operate experimental aircraft, and have found that the rewards outweigh the effort.
For questions regarding flying clubs please contact the Pilot Information Center at 1-800-872-2672.