AOPA will create a national network of flying clubs as part of a long-term initiative to facilitate flying club growth, the association told attendees at AOPA Aviation Summit Oct. 12.
As the aviation industry seeks to reverse rising costs and diminishing pilot numbers, flying clubs offer a piece of the puzzle: The organizations offer affordability, community, quality instruction, an entry (or re-entry) point to aviation, and a viable business model. The flying club initiative, built on extensive research, also promotes flying clubs and helps new clubs get started, with a goal of increasing the number of clubs nationwide from 661 to 1,000 in five years.
Flying clubs will be a big part of AOPA’s new Center to Advance the Pilot Community, which was created to help build the pilot population, said Adam Smith, senior vice president of the center, in the seminar, “Special Interest Education: AOPA Flying Club Network.”
“It’s a very healthy part of the aviation ecosystem,” he said, and AOPA wants to nurture and grow it.
Organizing a network of the clubs will allow them to share information and resources, Smith said. “Right now, I see wonderful work going on in local flying clubs in their individual communities, but it’s all in that local silo,” he added. AOPA will invite all existing clubs to join the network; members will agree to a statement of values, but there will be no cost to participate.
Near-term steps in the initiative include the offering of a Webinar Nov. 14 for people interested in starting a club, a monthly e-newsletter starting in December, and the hiring of a program manager for the project. The association already has rolled out an online flying club finder and Facebook group. It also has reached out to 12 clubs of various sizes to serve as “Pathfinder Clubs.”
Long term, AOPA intends to build and grow the network, and is looking into areas where it could offer assistance to flying clubs, including software that would reduce the administrative burden for club leaders, who are often volunteers; simplifying the insurance process for clubs; and establishing reciprocity agreements that allow pilots to go from club to club.
Mark Benson of the renowned opinion research consultants APCO Insight presented the findings from extensive research into the flying club experience that led to the flying club initiative.