Recruiting is the name of the game for Ithaca, N.Y.-based East Hill Flying Club, which is located in a mobile college community. The club is also a Part 141 flight training school that won an AOPA Flight Training Excellence award in 2012.
“A big part of our organization is flight training, with a dynamic relationship between the club and the school,” said David St. George, the club’s manager and chief instructor. “We are in a very mobile college community and also focus a lot on young people, so we are always turning over members. What many people do not realize is that this is not a quick sale, but often takes years. You have to be there consistently delivering a message of fun, camaraderie, adventure, and challenge, and if they are predisposed they will join up.”
East Hill was started in 1952 by Robinson Airline mechanics, said St. George. “Originally it was open only to Robinson employees. It was open to all in 1959,” he said. “The club split once Robinson became Mohawk [Airlines] and moved to Utica.”
The club has 234 members, said St. George. Of these, 105 are active, and probably 60 are active fliers. “Some members just participate but never fly. They send $50 a month to support our good work and aviation advocacy,” he said. “Good will is a huge help. One member bought us a large flat-screen TV for shows and another recently bought a new awning for the front entrance!” It operates as a 501c(7) social not-for-profit club, he added.
A social membership was recently added so people can get acquainted and participate without committing immediately to learning to fly, said St. George. “They enjoy the camaraderie and take part in some trips. This seems to be quite an effective taster, a smaller step to full commitment.”
New members pay a $700 refundable deposit and $400 initiation fee that makes them a part-owner of the club aircraft and have them fully covered by insurance. Dues are $50 a month for full flying members and $20 a month for social and owner-members.
The club owns seven aircraft: three Cessna 172 "P-hawks," a Mooney M20J, two Cessna 152 trainers, and a Citabria 7ECA, said St. George. “We lease a CT/Flight Design for sport pilot training and also a Seneca II for multi/ATP training.”
The club also offers flight training at a quote of $8,000 for a private, said St. George. “We try to avoid budget shoppers and emphasize that safety is what we really sell and graduate no whine before its time,” he said. “Currently the club has seven CFIs, three full-time paid as employees, with full professional insurance provided by the club.”
Club members get the benefit of a very experienced CFI staff and the social interaction, said St. George. “We own two hangars and our clubhouse is a major asset and benefit for members to meet their passengers and hang out,” he said. “We provide eight computers, three loaded iPads, and two Stratus, free to all. We run a LaserGrade testing center that attracts pilots from all over the state.”
Maintaining an institutional memory and shared identity is part of what the club’s social events foster and ensure, said St. George. “Our savvy flight students get a huge advantage in their flight training: flights and trips in C-210s, Aerostars, a Giles aerobatic plane, and Waco biplane that members own and share. That is a broad-based learning experience.”
St. George advises other clubs to start small and solid, with a sound financial plan. “Aviation is huge fun but requires kilo bucks to be successful. Have a clear mission and involve everyone in that plan. Command respect and passion for a shared goal of aviation fun and safety,” he said. “Getting hurt and bending planes is a huge, bad, not-fun activity. There are always "bottom feeders, back biters, big egos, and wild excitement seeking people in aviation; invite them [to] change or leave.”
East Hill Flying Club has amazing, generous, smart, and fun members that offer a great time for all, said St. George.