The schedule can get pretty full in the summer, but because of the reservation limits, reserving an airplane for a long weekend or even a couple of weeks is no problem as long as the member can plan in advance. As is the case with many flying clubs, members of the 150th Aero Club are named on the aircraft registrations. That makes me and everybody else in the club a 1/70th owner of four airplanes.
Besides having access to multiple aircraft, there is also a social aspect to belonging to a club that I really enjoy. The 150th Aero Club was founded in the 1960s by a group of light airplane enthusiasts who were members of the 150th Air National Guard, giving the club its name. I’m told that in the past the club was a much closer-knit group — but these days members still manage to get together for dinners, and also hold a club picnic each June and fly with each other often.
Many of the club’s social and flying events are arranged by the vice president, Stephen Taylor, who caught the aviation bug a few years ago and tries to get up in the air with other members as much as he can.
“I love flying, and I love interacting with everybody in the club,” he said. “It’s so much fun to be around a group of people who love aviation as much as I do and want to fly together.”
The Mega Club
There are about 300 nonprofit flying clubs operating in the United States, according to flying-club.org. The largest is Plus One Flyers in San Diego, which has nearly 1,000 members and 61 airplanes based at Montgomery Field (KMYF), McClellan-Palomar Airport (KCRQ), Gillespie Field (KSEE) and Ramona Airport (KRNM). That’s a big club. So big, in fact, that Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association President Craig Fuller made a personal visit to Plus One last year to learn about what makes the group so successful. He came away so impressed that he encouraged other clubs to follow Plus One’s lead — and that’s exactly what’s happening, said club Vice President Dave Eby.
“Our model is much different from most other clubs’,” Eby said. “We’re a nonprofit 502(c) organization, but we operate more like a business.”
Founded 26 years ago, the club’s philosophy centers on making dues affordable, offering a large variety of aircraft and keeping insurance costs low. Here’s how it works: Club members pay a one-time, upfront fee of $99 and monthly dues of $33.50. After attending a safety briefing, a new member gets checked out with one of the club’s instructors in the type of airplane he or she will fly. Hourly rates are wet and based on Hobbs time. Eby estimated its rental prices are about 25 percent less than what nearby flight schools charge.
The diversity of the Plus One fleet is truly something to behold. Members have the choice of flying Cessna, Piper, Beech and Cirrus singles, Beech and Piper twins, LSAs and even a nice Decathlon or Citabria. Rates start at $78 an hour for a Cessna 150 and top out at $295 an hour for a Piper Malibu.
Online scheduling is done through schedulemaster.com, where members are allowed five reservations at a time (plus one more if it’s made the same day). There is no restriction on how long an airplane can be reserved. Eby said there is also no cap on membership, meaning no waiting list to get in. The one catch is that you’ll be billed for a minimum of one hour of flying for each day that you have the airplane scheduled. Another caveat is that the fuel a member buys while away from home base is capped at $6 per gallon. That prevents the club from getting stuck with a large fuel bill because a member decided to pay $8 a gallon for fuel, say, at Las Vegas McCarran International instead of going someplace with cheaper gas — all to avoid paying ramp fees.
The club prides itself on imposing as few rules and restrictions as possible. It requires a check ride with a club instructor once per year, but that’s about it. There is one ironclad restriction, however: no flying to Mexico. “With everything that’s going on down there right now, we don’t want our airplanes going there,” Eby said. “One of our sister clubs had a Cessna 182 stolen right off the ramp at a Mexican airport.”
Eby said Plus One Flyers has a good relationship with its insurance provider, Chartis Aerospace, and as a result, members are provided with $1 million of liability coverage and $100,000 per passenger and no subrogation (meaning the insurance company has agreed not to come after individual members in case of a mishap). The club maintains a special insurance fund, Eby said, that is designed to cover 80 percent of a member’s $500 deductible. “That means if you go out and wreck a Cirrus on the runway, the most you’ll be out of pocket is a hundred bucks,” he said. “Our members appreciate having that peace of mind.”