Ace of Clubs

Flying clubs can bring the costs of operating an airplane within the reach of mid-income pilots

Photo: Caroline Sheen

Back when the general aviation industry was booming — that would be in the 1970s and ’80s — Beech Aircraft recognized a need and formed the Aero Clubs, which were flying clubs affiliated with authorized Beechcraft dealers. As a member of the club at Greenville-Spartanburg Airport in South Carolina back in the 1970s (part of Stevens Beechcraft), I was able to fly any of the small fleet of Beech-built aircraft, from the Musketeer family to the speedy Bonanza. The club also hosted occasional cook-outs and social gatherings. And although the original Beech Aircraft has gone through ownership changes, the Beech Aero Clubs have survived.

Now the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is launching a related effort designed to encourage the formation of flying clubs where none exist at present. “It’s about accessibility,” says Thomas Haines, an AOPA executive vice president and editor in chief of AOPA Pilot magazine. He notes that flying clubs often bring the costs of operating an airplane within the reach of middle income enthusiasts who might not be able to afford their own aircraft.

The AOPA will launch a web site this Friday, October 12, to foster growth in the pilot population, which began its decline in 1981 and ’82, according to Adam Smith, a senior vice president at the AOPA’s new Center to Advance the Pilot Community. Smith, who hails from England, credits that nation’s flying clubs with providing his start in an aviation career, “twenty years before I would have done,” he says.

Smith says that in the United States right now there are about 650 such clubs, and, “Research tells us they are doing a valuable job now, and we’ll shine a spotlight on that area of aviation, which forms a vital part of a healthy aviation ecosystem.” The AOPA will provide support in the legal and organizational aspects of launching and maintaining a viable club. As Smith says, “I think there are a lot of people interested in forming a flying club, but it feels slightly daunting.”

Most airplanes, which are expensive assets, spend their time tied down on a ramp somewhere. By sharing ownership, the cost of the asset spreads out among the members and its usage rate increases. As a current member of a boat club that operates on the same model, I can vouch for the appeal. Paying monthly dues beats making airplane, insurance, hangar, tiedown and maintenance payments.

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