One question every flying club must answer is what type of aircraft should the club get. Almost every pilot loves a Piper Cub—but is that really practical for a club environment? Perhaps a Cirrus—it’s modern, fast, comfortable, but it’s also expensive.
Choosing an aircraft can be an exciting process for a new club and there are several things to consider when beginning your search. Most importantly, the aircraft should meet the mission of the club, whether it’s primary training, affordable flying, cross-country travel, access to modern avionics and equipment, or something more unique such as offering taildraggers, LSAs, or even an experimental.
As with any acquisition, a clear understanding of the club’s finances is necessary. Some clubs identify an aircraft type and then determine their cost structure to afford the plane they want to buy or lease, while others will determine how much they can spend based on costs such as hangar or tie down fees, insurance, annual inspections, and operating costs. Either way, ensure that you know your club’s financial limitations and be prepared to make some compromises. Create a business plan that outlines the fixed costs, the number of members, fee structure—such as buy in and monthly dues—and how much you expect the aircraft to fly.
One of the issues that may affect finances on a long-term basis is maintenance. Are parts easy to get and how costly are they? Are there ADs that must be complied with on an ongoing basis? Is it a common aircraft type that most mechanics will know how to work on? Or is there something special about the aircraft that makes it more costly to maintain? For instance, Rotax engines require a mechanic who has a certification to work on Rotax to do any work, which not every mechanic has.
Another factor to consider is insurability. A less common aircraft may have a lower purchase price but higher insurance rates. Also hull value will determine insurance costs. If affordability is a key component of your club, an older model of an aircraft type, such as a 172, may be better option than a newer one. You still get a plane that meets the club’s mission without having to spend beyond your means.
To ensure you are getting an aircraft that fits the club, its important to include your members in the discussion. Cessna 172s and Piper Cherokees are common aircraft that serve similar missions. But if the majority of your members prefer one type over the other, than its probably best to narrow your search to just that type. Understanding how your members plan to use the aircraft also will help with getting the right aircraft and keeping members satisfied.