Just as flight schools rent aircraft, marinas tend to rent boats. And just like the aviation industry, there is a cost-prohibitive barrier that weeds out the bulk of the population who were dreaming of owning a boat. Whether the customer’s interest is in the air or on the sea, cost is a factor that causes a disturbing number of potential customers to throw up their hands in despair. Sure, they can afford to learn to operate the machine. They might even enjoy the process. What they can’t do is afford to operate the machine afterward. The hangar rent, the maintenance, the unexpected costs that might be lurking around every corner. All those things conspire to prevent the average person from reaching for his or her dreams.
Reality is a powerful motivator. Especially when the perception of reality is that you’ll have to either give up the dream of flying or give up the house. You can’t do both, so you just stop trying.
Now imagine you were driving down the road and saw a sign plastered across a marina that read, “Boat Club $199 Month.” Would that price get you thinking nautical thoughts again? The Port Canaveral Boat Club certainly thinks it will work, because they’ve got that very sign hanging on the side of their building that faces the road. Considering this family-owned and -operated business has been chugging along for nearly 20 years, they may be on to something, too. If the customer’s dream of getting out on the water and having the time of their life with their family can be reduced to the point that it costs less than the average car payment, then they can afford to be a regular boater.
That’s a lesson flight schools and FBOs can learn from.
Americans like to be owners, not renters. A club-based business model can be incorporated into most flight school and FBO operations without taking anything away from the current menu of services. In fact, by offering a club alternative your customers can feel and act like owners, without the headaches of additional costs that might have scared them away when dealing with the unacceptably high cost of individual ownership.
A number of flying club options are available, ranging from what amounts to a fractional ownership model where the club members actually purchase shares of the airplane, to a simple club system that allows members to join based on an annual fee, and a low hourly operational cost. Club aircraft can be owned or leased. The maintenance can be contracted out. And even nonpilots have the ability to become club members who enjoy the freedom to hire the flight instructor they most want to work with throughout their training.
That flexibility allows the local flight school to be the natural sponsor of a flying club. The school can provide instructors to the club, at rates that approximate what any student pilot or flight review customer would expect to pay. Club rules generally specify that only club-approved CFIs are allowed to instruct club members. But there is no limit imposed on how many instructors can be approved to work with the club members. And there is no rule that requires CFIs to be club members themselves. Similarly, the flight school’s maintenance crew can contract to handle the club airplane just as they would any of the school’s airplanes.
This leaves the school in the enviable position of being able to offer new potential students an alternative that may be perceived as more alluring than the traditional training model allows. It also provides an income stream through membership fees, rental charges, instruction, and maintenance on an aircraft the school would not necessarily have in its lineup without the club’s existence. And as if that isn’t reason enough to consider the diversification of your flight school into sponsoring a club, it provides students a clear path to continuing their association with the flight school even after their practical test is behind them.
AOPA can provide a considerable amount of insight to anyone with a penchant for forming or operating a flying club.