Starting A Frugal Pilot Flying Club

The Wright Brothers Flying Club (motto: Wright side up!) was the first of thousands of organizations intended to enjoy flying on a budget. Though not as popular as they were in the 1970s, flying clubs are resurging in interest throughout the country – especially among budget-conscious pilots.

Previous articles covered flying clubs flying club basics and crafting a flying club agreement. Following is a different prospective: how to form a frugal flying club with a focus on one of the most complex expenses: insurance. Keeping an eye on insurance costs and opportunities as you form a club can help you make smarter and more cost-effective decisions.

How do I know this? Recently, Bill Sneed of Aviation Insurance Resources (AIR; air-pros.com) shared some valuable tips with me on forming a flying club with a focus on getting the best value. Bill has been a pilot since 1974 and flew as a California crop duster. He’s worked for AVEMCO and Falcon/Great Lakes and was president of the AOPA Insurance Agency before joining AIR. He’s a big advocate for flying clubs.

Flying clubs are about the passion pilots have for flight as well as their budgets. For many pilots, the cost of owning an aircraft is beyond individual means. Flying clubs offer a way for frugal pilots to co-own an aircraft. Bill offers sound advice on the three factors that all flying clubs need to consider: type of aircraft, number of pilots, and insurance coverage.

Choosing a plane

The least expensive and easiest to insure club planes are under 200 horsepower, fixed wing, fixed gear planes manufactured by Cessna, Piper, and Beach. Of course, many other GA aircraft can be and are insured in flying clubs, but the least expensive ones to insure are the ones that are the most popular.

Bill recommends starting a frugal flying club with four-seat Cessna 172s and Piper PA-28s for the lowest initial purchase and lowest operating and insuring expenses.

Choosing members

How many members should your frugal flying club have? For the lowest per-member cost, aim for less than ten member pilots per aircraft. Five-to-ten-per plane works out the most economical while allowing ample time for flying for each member pilot.

Old pilots? New pilots? Yes! Successful flying clubs have a broad mix of pilots, from students to veterans. Often, the enthusiasm of newer pilots rubs off on the more experienced ones who may not still be in love with flying. And veteran pilots often enjoy sharing their skills and experience with newly-minted pilots.

To get the best insurance rates for your flying club, provide agents with a roster of members and data on their personal information and their flying experience: names, birthdates, type license, ratings, total hours logged and in what make, model, and complexity. If the club operates a complex aircraft (such as RG or MEL), make sure the pilots who use it are up-to-date on their log requirements. Also note each pilot’s data regarding accidents, incidents, submissions, losses, or DUIs. Your aviation insurance broker will want to know this – and probably penalize your club if they find out important facts after the policy has been issued. Even if you think the data is not fully relevant, include it as the insurance agent or broker will make the final decision as to what to include in the application to the insurance company. Your insurance broker is your partner in this transaction.

Choosing coverage

How much aviation insurance does your frugal flying club need? For the lowest policy price, keep the hull value at or below $100,000 per aircraft, at least for the first year of the policy. With a good record, you can increase the hull value if the actual value is higher.

For the best balance of coverage and costs, initially keep the liability limits at $1 million for each occurrence and $100,000 per passenger, recommends Bill Sneed. If appropriate, ask for quotes on higher liability limits. The difference in costs may be slight and offer greater peace of mind to flying club members.

On a related note, GAN recently covered “New benefits for flying clubs” as announced by the AOPA, offering free scheduling software and other tools and benefits to flying clubs. In addition to aircraft scheduling, it offers the club and members the capability to process credit card payments, create invoices, and other useful functions. Did I mention that it’s FREE?!

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Also, register your new frugal flying club with the AOPA Flying Club Network and review their Checklist for Starting a Flying Club. Take a look at http://www.aopa.org/Pilot-Resources/Flying-Clubs.