Southern California-based iFly is an exclusive flying club for people who want to fly well-equipped modern airplanes, but aren't interested in or don't have the time to devote to the manifold tasks associated with airplane ownership. In exchange for paying more — actually quite a bit more — than the member of a more traditional flying club, the pilots who elect to become iFly members get access to very new, very well-equipped Columbia 350 airplanes.
The list of responsibilities and chores an owner takes on when purchasing even the simplest airplane is longer than most nonowners realize. Chores range from managing maintenance to planning budgets, paying hangar bills, all the way down to washing and vacuuming the airplane interior. Often, new owners are surprised to find that state and county governments levy additional taxes on airplane owners. The time investment required to locate a good airplane can take years. In addition, many other tasks including locating a competent maintenance facility, a nearby hangar, and an airplane wash rack are part of the time allocation woven into airplane ownership.
An iFly membership grants each member access to 420 days in the five-year ownership period to fly a four-place high-performance Columbia 350 airplane. At first glance, membership looks expensive — a five-year membership costs individuals or small corporations $39,900. In addition, each member is assessed a $1,795 monthly management fee. Flight-time fees are $70 per hour dry — the clock is not ticking while the pilot is taxiing to the runway or picking up a clearance. The numbers may sound high, but a closer look often reveals that an iFly membership makes sense and pencils out on the positive side of the ledger for many pilots.
The company limits the number of members to four per airplane. Unlike the ratios found in more common flying clubs, this tiny member-to-airplane ratio practically guarantees members will always be able to use "their" airplane when they want. Memberships are active for a five-year period. If circumstances change, members may convey the remaining time on their membership to another prospective member for whatever compensation suits both parties.
At the end of the five-year period, members can buy the airplane, purchase another five-year membership, or walk away. At the present time iFly owns six Columbia 350s. All of the airplanes are based in Southern California, with one airplane each at the Van Nuys, Santa Monica, Torrance, Long Beach, Orange County, and Carlsbad airports. iFly's long-term goal is the establishment of a nationwide network so members could always have an airplane — identical in type and equipment to their home airplane — available anywhere in the United States.
The company launched its business in September 2006 at the Long Beach/Daugherty Field.
The Columbia 350 is a can-do airplane that sports a 310-horsepower fuel-injected Continental IO-550-N engine with a 2,000-hour time between overhauls. The airframe is constructed of twenty-first-century composite materials. Composite construction allows designers to create smooth drag-reducing shapes while still providing generously sized passenger cabins. The designs are so efficient that Columbia claims that maximum cruise power produces speeds of 191 KTAS at 8,000 feet density altitude. The landing gear is fixed so pilots with limited retractable-landing-gear experience will be able to transition into the airplanes without incurring extensive insurance-industry-required checkout costs.
The Garmin G1000 avionics suite in each iFly Columbia 350 provides pilots with capabilities that couldn't even be visualized by pilots a few short years ago. First there are dual 10.4-inch displays. The primary flight display fills the panel in front of the pilot. A multifunction display screen is located immediately to the right, with the audio panel, nav/com, GPS, and transponder controls arranged vertically between the two screens. Changes also can be entered through the READY (Remote Access Data Entry) Pad. The G1000 system features a flight director, an integrated autopilot with altitude and climb-rate preselect functions, full engine instrumentation (with fuel-consumption and fuel-to-destination readouts), a terrain awareness warning system (TAWS), XM satellite weather real-time weather datalink, and satellite radio. The iFly Columbia 350s also are equipped with propeller deicing, an active traffic advisory system, and air conditioning.
The minimum pilot qualifications for iFly members are 150 hours with a private pilot certificate. An instrument rating is preferred. New members are required to complete four days of Columbia 350 training taught by a Columbia factory-approved flight instructor. iFly provides members with recurrent training — approximately four hours — every six months. Corporations may sign up, but there is one caveat that applies to both flying families and corporate members — only one pilot is allowed per membership.
Members can cancel their memberships for any reason with 90 days written notice. Membership costs are refunded on a prorated basis.
Reserving an airplane is completed via the Internet through iFly's proprietary scheduling software. On the day of the flight the pilot goes to the airport; punches a few numbers, including his personal code, into the touchscreen on the iFly kiosk located in an FBO lobby; and picks up the keys. Upon returning, the process is reversed.
The company developed its usage profile after market research on the flying habits of new airplane owners. Members of iFly may schedule seven consecutive flying days for every month (if desired) up to a year in advance. This gives each of the four members on each airplane a chance to lock in his or her nonnegotiable dates during the next 12 months. Members also have the flexibility of reserving any open date within the next 30 calendar days. These guidelines are flexible and subject to what Andrew DeMond, president of iFly, calls "management oversight." That oversight gives members the opportunity to take "their" airplane on extended trips, such as combining a trip to see the fall colors in New England with attending AOPA Expo 2007 in Hartford, Connecticut, from October 4 through 6.
There's no limit on flying hours, but a surcharge does apply when a member exceeds 420 hours during the five-year period.
The iFly concept seems to be the ideal solution for some pilots who want to enjoy the freedoms of having access to a fast, well-equipped new airplane, yet who don't want to, or don't have the time to, take on all the responsibilities of ownership. DeMond is a believer. He recently took off from Santa Monica Municipal Airport early one morning to fly to Mammoth Mountain for a day of skiing. He was on the slopes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. before flying back home in time for dinner. After he dropped off the keys, the ownership tasks were taken care of by the professional iFly management team. All good, no bad.