Discovery flights can be a great way to give potential club members the opportunity to experience a flight in your aircraft.
If the flight is offered at no-cost to the participant, there are no major hurdles from a regulatory perspective. Many clubs choose this path to keep things simple.
However, the club may wish to charge for a discovery flight, in which case it would need to meet three requirements to remain compliant with FAA regulations.
The first requirement is that the flight must be conducted by a CFI and contain an element of instruction. If the flight is not conducted by a CFI it would not meet requirements for student instruction and sightseeing regulations under FAR 91.147. The FAA is particularly anxious to avoid you conducting “sightseeing” flights under the guise of a discovery flight. The flight should be positioned as an introductory flight lesson, not just a flight around the airport.
The second requirement is for a 100-hour inspection under FAR 91.409. The key to this regulation is offering the flight for compensation; if the club is charging for the discovery flight it must perform a 100-hour inspection since the flight is being operated for compensation or hire under FAA guidance.
The third requirement may not apply to everyone, but some clubs have local airport regulations that affect their operations. For example, we are aware of some airports that technically require discovery flight participants to be a club member. This requirement might be met by a providing a short-duration or provisional membership. As general guidance, first be aware of the regulations; second be sensitive to local relationships particularly with your airport manager and /or local flight schools.
If you have any question on this or other flying club operations, please contact the Pilot Information Center at 1-800-872-2672.