Although every flying club is unique and operates independently of others, you can use this guide as a step by step primer that will help you get a new flying club up and running. If you’re already involved with a flying club but would like a deeper understanding of your operations and insight into how other flying clubs operate, this guide can help you there, too.
The FAA defines a flying club “…as a nonprofit or not-for-profit entity (e.g., corporation, association or partnership) organized for the express purpose of providing its members with aircraft for their personal use and enjoyment only".
That sentence is a direct quote from the FAA Airport Compliance Manual—Order 5190.6B. You can find that exact wording in Chapter 10, section 6 of the Order, which specifies what flying clubs can and cannot do. In its simplest form, and in plain English, a flying club is a member-owned and managed social organization that makes aircraft available to its membership and does not seek to make a profit from the use of that aircraft. We advise you to review FAA Order 5190.6B, Chapter 10.6, so you can understand what’s expected of a flying club, both by the FAA and your local airport operator. While you are at it, we suggest you also review the amendment to the Order.
AOPA’s early research found there are hundreds of flying clubs in the United States. The average club has been in operation for approximately 40 years, flies roughly four aircraft, and has 50 or so members. Do not let those numbers dissuade you from trying to start a new club, however. Many flying clubs operate with just one aircraft and often have fewer than 10 members.
Some flying clubs cap their membership at only a handful of people. Others grow to include hundreds of pilots. Keep this in mind as you plan to start or grow your club. There is no universally correct model. Your club only needs to fill the needs that you and your fellow members wish of it.
Because of your members, aircraft, and operations, your flying club will be unique and different from all others. Even if it is based on the structure, documents and rules of a club that has been in existence for decades, yours will be distinct based on a wide variety of factors—not the least of which is the actual benefits you and your fellow members hope to get out of club membership.
To help you through the critical steps required when starting a new club, each section in this publication covers a specific topic of interest. In general, they cover those topics in the order you will deal with them as you go through the process of getting your club up and running. You also will find a treasure trove of sample documents on the AOPA Flying Club Downloadable Resources page. You can use these as templates for your club documents if you wish.
These webpages and the associated booklet, the Guide to Starting a Flying Club, step you through the process of establishing founding club members, writing your mission statement, and designing your club to meet your needs. We will discuss how to find members, choose an aircraft, establish a bank account for the club, and even make decisions about your legal and tax status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
This guide can be used as the road map to establish an operational flying club. That is intentional. If you choose to follow it word for word, you will end up with a flying club on your hands. But it does not contain any specific information or recommendations for your flying club. The flying club you form will ideally be one that does exactly what you want, in your area, with due consideration given to the local population, as well as ordinances and regulations you’ll want to be familiar with to be truly successful in the long run. You can follow our examples step by step, or you can pick and choose the information you want to use and the way you want to use it. It’s entirely up to you.
Disclaimer: AOPA disclaims any liability or responsibility for any damages or losses arising from your use of these materials.
One of the recommendations we will stand by hard and fast is that, at some point in your journey to building a truly great flying club, you consult with an attorney who knows a thing or two about aviation, business, and liability protection. There is no substitute for good planning, and a well-versed lawyer can save your bacon in the long run, no matter what sort of endeavor you’re embarking on. If you need assistance with legal advice, AOPA Flying Club Initiative staff can put you in touch with an aviation-savvy attorney in your area.
We have our own lawyers at AOPA, led by AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead. This is what he has to say about all of this:
“As with all aviation activities that a pilot or aircraft owner becomes involved with, it is wise to become familiar with all available information and applicable rules. The FAA regulates most aspects of general aviation. Flying clubs are no different. The Federal Aviation Administration provides guidance for flying clubs that you’ll wish to review. The FAA Airport Compliance Manual (FAA Order 5190.6B), especially section 10.6 is noteworthy for clubs that plan to operate on airports that are subject to “grant assurances” made by airport sponsors in return for receiving federal funds. The Order, and the recent amendment, set expectations and limitations on how instructors, mechanics, and other club members can be compensated. The club must also be a not-for-profit entity and be owned equally by all members. The club may lease aircraft, but it must be of sufficient duration to provide operational control and “owner-like” rights to the club and its members.”Next Section: Establishing Founding Members & Writing Your Mission Statement