There are lots of reasons you might consider joining a flying club. The most often cited centers on the economics: A flying club with lots of members can offer many of the benefits of aircraft ownership without the hassles or expense of being totally responsible for the upkeep of one. At the same time, the rates a club charges for the use of its aircraft are almost always less than what you can find at the local FBO or flight school.
Maybe you fall into the category of a pilot who has earned his Private certificate and now you’re wondering what to do with your newfound freedom as a licensed pilot. Perhaps renting your school’s airplanes isn’t ideal because students are clogging the schedule. And although you’ve combed the pages of Trade-A-Plane, you can’t quite justify the cost of buying an airplane yet.
Of course, that’s not the only type of pilot who should consider joining a flying club. Maybe you used to own an airplane but decided to sell it. Or, even if you still own an airplane, you could think of membership in a flying club as cheap insurance for those times when your airplane is down for maintenance but you still want to fly. Most clubs charge a fee to join and nominal monthly dues, which gives you access to the club’s fleet of airplanes.
Even a brand-new student pilot can benefit from the flying club experience, since many clubs allow zero-time pilots to join and learn in club airplanes with club-approved instructors. The benefits of choosing this path are that learning to fly in a club airplane will normally be less costly than training with a local flight school, and the instructors in most clubs are members as well. That means there’s a better chance that your early mentors will still be around long after you’ve earned your ticket — and will probably even become your friends.
A while back when I was weighing my options about where and what to fly — and how I could get the best return for my money — I looked at everything within my budget. A few of the local flight schools I contacted flat-out told me they didn’t want to rent their airplanes because their schedules were chockablock with students. Great for them, bad for me.
I talked with a friend about going in on a share in a Bonanza, but I hesitated pulling the trigger, mainly because I’d just bought a house and most of my savings was gone. Besides, I had another option in mind that I wanted to take a closer look at first.
I’d been interested in the idea of joining a flying club for a long time. A few years ago I joined a boating club on the lake near my home and loved it. This club had four boats that members could schedule in advance. I paid one upfront fee at the beginning of the season, and after that the only extra cost was for the gas I used. The owner of the marina who formed the club told me he based some of the economics for the concept on what he’d heard and read about NetJets, the business jet fractional ownership firm founded in the 1980s by financial whiz Richard Santulli.
I contacted a few of the clubs in my area and quickly learned the ones I liked the best had waiting lists. I put my name on the list of the one I preferred, the 150th Aero Flying Club at Morristown Airport in New Jersey, and waited. Lucky for me, the club was in the process of buying a fourth airplane, and that meant it was expanding the membership from fewer than 60 pilots to about 70. I was in.
Each flying club has its own way of making the dollars and cents work, but here’s how my club does it: New members pay a one-time, nonrefundable fee of $250, plus a deposit, refundable upon resignation from the club, of $1,500. Each month, members pay $70 for the dues. The club has four IFR-capable Cessnas, with hourly rates that are wet (meaning the fuel is included) and based on tach time, not Hobbs — which can save a pilot a lot of money over the long run. Hourly rates for the airplanes are quite reasonable too: It costs $80 an hour to fly the lowliest of the bunch, a Cessna 172N; $92 for a slightly nicer 172N; $105 for a more modern 172SP (by far the most popular airplane in the fleet); and $130 for a 182RG.
Members are allowed to reserve an airplane for up to two weeks at a time. A maximum of four simultaneous reservations are allowed, which helps keep available aircraft slots from filling up. All scheduling is done online through a password-protected area at aircraftclubs.com.