Other than recreational aviation (i.e., backcountry flying on camping/fishing/hunting trips), growing a LOT more flying clubs is probably the best growth angle for small-plane aviation. AOPA aims to help by providing the formation and ownership documents for free. Where they could really help, however, is working with an insurance underwriter or two so that pilots of one club could rent a plane and fly it at another club when they travel.
It's a great goal, but there is still the expense. Let's say a flying club cuts the cost of renting a modern, IFR-capable, 180-hp single from $140/hr. at a local school or FBO by 25%. Wow! Now' it's only $105! So, if you fly 80 hours a year, you're only out $8400/yr., plus maybe $300 in dues. I just question how many people, in this era of a declining middle class, have $8500 to learn to fly and another $8500/year to spend on flying. Meanwhile, you have to comply with tons of regulations, worry about getting your ticket yanked for violating a TFR, can't really carry your entire family, can't "really" get there unless the weather is good VFR, etc., etc.
In other words, I really doubt a few more flying clubs are going to save GA. But I sure hope I'm wrong!
Until moving for a job in 2007, I was a satisfied member of a flying club with a single Cessna 172, hull insurance (about $7,000/yr back then), and a tiedown on the ramp with electricity for preheating. I served in every board member capacity over my 15 years in the club, and my wife had been there for over 10 years before me (we met when I joined).
Since the club's founding as a state-law non-profit in the 1960s, it was at its worst during economic bubbles (3 owned and 3 leased planes, a paid operations officer, lots of mis-use, but not enough utilization for each aircraft), and at its best when smallest/leanest. With a volunteer board and some reduced dues and flying credits for the maintenance officer and secretary/treasurer, we did well. We had 20 to 25 members with a $250 buy-in, set up a web reservation system at aircraftclubs.com, and rarely had any schedule conflicts (weather was the bigger issue). Utilization averaged under 300 hrs/yr, and nearly half the members almost never flew, yet faithfully paid their dues ($50-$60) every month and called themselves airplane owners. Almost all the flying was done by the same 5 or 6 active members, and only about 3 or 4 of us usually broke 40 hrs/yr. After going through an engine replacement with an assessment and loan, we added an engine reserve to the hourly rate. In 2006 we had a base hourly of $75, with a fuel surcharge that kicked in when our cost was over $3/gallon, which made the hourly $85 at $4/gal, $95 at $5/gal, etc. On $20,000 to $30,000 in yearly gross revenue, an slightly less in expenses, we managed to buy an IFR/Long-Range plane and sell the VFR/Standard-Tanks bird, upgrade to a Pen Yan 180-HP fixed-pitch powerplant, and do some other upgrade just about every year (interior, new nav/com, etc.).
Unable to find a similar club after our move, and interested in back-country off-airport landing operations not covered by our old club insurance, my wife and I bought a plane in 2008. Now, it is a challenge to fly 30 hrs/yr and shoulder all the expenses of ownership for about the same plane and insurance/tiedown situation. I look back fondly to our club days now - both the cost savings and the camaraderie - even though it was sometimes frustrating to manage an airplane by committee and put up with some folks who didn't always share our approach to maintenance or safety.
Flying clubs can make flying more affordable and fun, with the right energetic folks involved, but they aren't going to make it free. It is the passion for aviation that has to justify the expense for recreational flying. For me, it is worth it to own/fly only 30 hrs/yr when I can land a visiting friend next to a glacier and see the smile on their face (and mine!). If we can introduce a steady stream of newcomers to that passion - every year - and have the choice of a well-run flying club or two nearby, there will be enough folks entering the professional aviation pipeline to have an industry with decent career prospects. Let's give AOPA's club effort a chance, and some free verbal support at least, unless you have a better idea.
skymachines, not sure how your math works or maybe you need some coaching for an accountant. We have a club with 35 members, 3 planes. we get plenty of flying (nobody has complained in the last 2 yrs I have been a member of not enough time to fly). our dues $99/mo, our buy-in only $1,000. We have a 2002 C172, 1976 C182 and 1973 C182 retractable. the rentals go from $105 to $125 WET. Yeah it can be done!
The trouble with flying rentals or club-owned planes is that, at end of the day, what do you have that is tangible for your 50 hours per year for five years? Answer? A competent pilot, a piece of a diminishing asset and a bunch of cool memories. Spend the same $5 K per year for five years and you have some home improvements that directly translate to increasing that asset, a better car, perhaps a small boat or an RV in the garage and $5000-10,000 in the bank.
So bottom line is, you'd better be a committed pilot and be doing it because you have then passion for it. Otherwise it makes no financial sense to toss away money that will appreciate for you for a long time and provide a more comfortable retirement. You'd be better off buying an inexpensive plane, like a J-3 or Musketeer, that would you out of house and home and will give you a tangible asset after those five years.
Surrey, British Columbia
I am not part of a "club" per se, but I AM part of a 4 person partnership on a beautiful 1975 Cessna 177B Cardinal. It was Vref'ed at $69,000, we purchased it for $58,000 and put another $4,000 in to replace the no.2 radio. It had 200 SMOH on the engine when we bought it. With the G430 annual subscription (East Coast Only), tie downs ($66/month), engine overhaul fund, maintenance fund, insurance ($1,200/yr). Dues are around $80/month. My portion of the 'mortgage' is $150/month but I dont really count that since it is money that I'll get back (less a couple %) when or if we ever sell it. So with gas at home airport at around $5.70/gallon, I have been averaging around $58-65/hr to fly it and scheduling has never been an issue for us. I will ONLY ever co-own in the future. I love splitting the costs and flying with the other owners, and getting to fly a beautiful airplane. It totally makes sense. Now prices totally could balloon if we hangared it and threw money at it for every little reason. The problem I see with "Skymachines" posts is that there are a LOT of extraneous costs that he's included. $1,800/yr to clean the airplane that is kept in a hangar?!... please. $1,250/yr for charts and subscriptions?... you could find more afordable, yet still legal options 7% interest rate on $80,000? We got 5.7% on $30,000. All totaled for my plane, if you include the mortgage, I'm spending about $100/hr. I fly a-lot and the plane is there 95% of the time I want it, I can take it for a weekend or overnight or an entire week if i let partners know a month in advance. It is great!
I believe strongly in the value of flying clubs. I know from first hand experience that a flying club kept me from becoming an inactive pilot. I and three other avid pilots and flying clubs believe flying clubs are a key part of rebuilding the industry. So much so that we have created the first ever scholarship to start a flying club. With the support from several well-known aviation industry partners, we are is excited to announce a scholarship for which the winning applicant will receive various forms of consulting, products, and services to launch a flying club and position it for long-term success. Details and other information can be found at http://www.StartAFlyingClub.com.