Flying Club Decisions

Sharing your wings is a big decision. The goal is to reduce the costs to gain the greatest benefits from flying. Exactly what, how, and why you share your wings offers so many variations and opportunities that there is no single solution. There are many options including co-ownership and partnership. The third option, starting or joining a flying club, offers even more options – and potential problems. Let’s take a closer look.

Flying Club Basics

Flying Clubs can be of any size, but usually involve two or more aircraft and six or more members. Sharing wings through a flying club is a good choice for pilots who want access to a variety of aircraft, rather than just one. For example, West Valley Flying Club (wvfc.org) was organized 42 years ago serving pilots in the San Francisco Bay area from two airports. There are more than 40 aircraft in inventory ranging from a Cessna 152 to a Cirrus SR22 with a G1000 glass cockpit. Members pay monthly dues and an hourly rental (wet) for time flown.

The reason why flying clubs need six or more members is that the clubs require a higher level of aviation liability insurance than for a partnership. If you’re considering forming a flying club, talk with a few aviation insurance brokers to determine their requirements and comparative costs. Especially important is how many pilots can be on a single policy and at what flying experience levels.

The AOPA reports that there are more than 600 flying clubs in the U.S. That may seem like a lot, but not compared to estimated 4,000 flying clubs in America during the 1960s and 1970s when Cessna was very active in the entry-level aviation market. Also, changes to tax laws regarding aircraft leasebacks – how many flying clubs get their aircraft – has reduced inventory. The AOPA is actively promoting the formation of new flying clubs through their website at AOPA.org/Pilot-Resources/Flying-Clubs.

Types of Flying Club

There are two common types of flying clubs. Shareholder flying clubs allow members to purchase a share in the club with their initiation fee and own a percentage of whatever the club jointly buys and owns. Leaseback flying clubs use aircraft owned by individuals or corporations and are leased back to the flying club for tax advantages. The type of flying club you form will require expert legal and financial advice – which is why many frugal pilots decide to join an existing flying club rather than start one.

A typical flying club requires many officers, depending on the aircraft inventory and number of members. For example, a larger flying club will include a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, operations officer, flight safety officer, and a maintenance officer. Smaller clubs will combine some of these jobs. Depending on club structure, the officers may be paid or unpaid. 

There’s one other type of flying club that is nearly extinct: the FBO flying club. The popular Cessna Flying Clubs of the 1960s and 1970s are these. All of the aircraft are owned by an FBO, in this case an aircraft dealership typically combined with a flight school. Some independent FBOs still operate flying club flight schools, but liability insurance and fewer student pilots has diminished their number over the years.

Frugal Tip: Flight time in most rental aircraft typically is measured with an installed Hobbs Meter, a time instrument that measures how long an aircraft engine operates (based on oil pressure). A tachometer measures engine RPM, so the tach turns slower when taxiing or descending. Engine and other maintenance will be based on tach readings. Many flying clubs use tach time to measure flight duration. Whatever you fly, know which instrument flight time is based on as Hobbs time can be 10-20% higher than tach readings.

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How can you find out more about flying clubs in your area? The AOPA Flying Club website mentioned above is an excellent resource. Flying-Club.org offers a listing by state and city. Another resource for flying clubs is SkyManager.com with an integrated software program that helps flying clubs and flight schools smoothly manage all the data and scheduling needed for a successful aviation business.

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