Frank Gallagher, founder of Florida’s Aero Club Valkaria, decided on a different strategy when he created the flying club in October 2010—form it as a limited liability company in the state.
“I looked at different flying club business models. They are either very successful or they flop,” Gallagher said. “And they flop for reasons including one member does all the work or another member abusing the plane.” Also, some may feel that a $6,000 to $30,000 investment in an airplane is too much, he added.
So to eliminate all of that, Gallagher felt the limited liability company was the way to go. “The benefit of this structure is that one person is in charge. It sounds authoritative, but we have no disputes. I’m the founder, owner, managing member of the LLC, director of social activities, and the chief flight instructor. As the club grows, I will fill those spots with other people,” he said. “Everyone knows the rules and there’s an authority figure. Members can just show up and enjoy themselves.”
Gallagher said he likes to fly his aircraft—a Cessna 172 and a Piper Cherokee PA-28-180—on a constant basis. “I have an investment in my aircraft and through the club, I can get my fixed and operating costs covered,” he said. “I wanted to run the club as business, not as a collection of good old boys who like to fly.”
Gallagher, a helicopter test pilot by trade, has closely followed AOPA’s efforts to stimulate pilot growth. “I’ve seen the AOPA numbers—80 percent of those who start flight school drop out,” he said. “And the remaining 20 percent who complete training drop out too after a year. This is a horrendous rate for a hobby that people committed a lot of time and money for.”
AOPA’s flying clubs initiative is part of the new Center to Advance the Pilot Community, which officially launched in October. Extensive research commissioned by AOPA found that that flying clubs are a valuable part of the aviation landscape. Pilots involved with the most effective clubs find aviation more affordable and more accessible, and flying clubs create the type of supportive community that keeps pilots active and engaged.
It costs $600 a year for flying members and $100 a year for a social membership to join Aero Club Valkaria, said Gallagher. The club does social events every month, including fly-outs, breakfasts, and parties, he added. The club currently has 11 flying and 13 social members.
“The social events are great for retention. We lose most of our pilots after they get their license because they’re bored,” said Gallagher. “I want that to bring in new members and help them rekindle the love they had when they first started flying.”
Aero Club Valkaria also offers flight instruction; Gallagher is the only instructor and is currently training between three and five students. The rate is $45 an hour for members and $55 an hour for nonmembers.
Gallagher offered advice for those who want to start their own flying clubs. “You need to explore your motive for starting one and decide on your business model. My club gives people the chance to join without buying part of [an] aircraft,” he said. “Everyone is so excited in the beginning when [they] get an aircraft. But once you’re in, the novelty wears off.
“I appreciate AOPA for starting this flying clubs initiative because there’s not a lot of real information out there on creating clubs,” he said. “Flying clubs are a great idea because we need social organizations that let us share aircraft, fly somewhere, and have fun.”