By this point you’re probably wondering how in the world Plus One Flyers manages to offer members access to a fleet of more than 60 airplanes. Unlike traditional flying clubs, which usually own the airplanes in the fleet, Plus One leases airplanes from owners, who then become club members. Aircraft owners pay a management fee of $5 per flight hour and in turn lease their aircraft to Plus One, which cuts them a check for the hours flown. Most owners, said Eby, place their aircraft under an LLC, which provides certain tax benefits.
The check owners receive at the end of each month can help significantly offset costs. Eby said one Cirrus owner who joined the club and flies about 100 hours a year estimated that his hourly cost of ownership went from $400 down to less than $200 thanks to the revenue he receives from the club. The one downside of the arrangement is that once an aircraft owner joins the club, he or she is on an equal playing field with all other members. In other words, if an owner’s airplane has been booked for a two-week trip to Reno during the same time he wants to take the family to Catalina Island, he’ll have to find a different airplane to fly — the good news is he has 60 from which to choose.
Flying Club Roots
Flying clubs are almost as old as aviation itself. The concept really took off after Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo Atlantic crossing, when it seems everybody wanted to learn. In doing some research, I was able to find information about scores of flying clubs that existed in the 1930s through the 1950s. They all operated much the way clubs do today. For example, in the August 1954 issue of Flying, I read about a flying club in Ohio that charged members a $50 fee upfront, which gave them access to a fleet of several well-maintained J-3 Cubs and Aeronca Champs. There was a $15 a month service fee, and the rental rate was $3.50 an hour for the Cub.
Besides private flying clubs, many aviation companies, including Garmin and Cessna, have clubs for employees. The largest employee club is the Boeing Employees Flying Association in the Puget Sound area in Washington. This nonprofit club has 21 airplanes including Cessna and Piper singles, a Cirrus SR20 and even a Cessna 210 on floats. The club is intended for Boeing employees, but anybody can join. Share prices start at $550 with rental rates in a Cessna 172SP averaging $125 an hour. For comparison, one flight school in the Seattle area that we checked with charges $160 an hour for a similar 172.
Military flying clubs also abound, but to join you normally have to have some affiliation with the armed forces. Sometimes, membership in the Civil Air Patrol can suffice. The Jacksonville Navy Flying Club in Florida, as an example, offers the usual Cessna and Piper singles you’d expect to find at civilian clubs, but also has a Beech T-34B Mentor in its fleet.
An obvious benefit to joining a flying club versus buying your own airplane or even co-owning with a small group is that all maintenance is overseen by the club officers who are appointed to those positions. In some clubs, officers are paid for their time, while in others they receive compensation in the form of free flying. Either way, it frees the rank-and-file members from worrying that a repair will far exceed the money he or she has budgeted, as well as the hassle of having to call the shop and schedule repairs. Likewise, database updates, routine maintenance, annual inspections and all record keeping are overseen by club members who take on those responsibilities. And if you enjoy changing oil or fixing flat tires or keeping books, by all means, sign up to become a club officer.
Of course, there are some downsides to belonging to a flying club. One is that another member might have already booked an airplane you want to fly — or worse, none are available. You’re also bound to have personality clashes in a large club, and possibly even political infighting among members or factions. That’s all about learning how to get along with people, and not everybody will. You might also run into members who are serial troublemakers — guys who will constantly forget to lock the aircraft doors or leave trash strewn in the cockpit or who won’t call for fuel after they’ve flown. Sometimes, the best course of action in such cases is to politely ask — or even force — the offending member to resign.
If a member of Plus One Flyers does something dumb, he or she will normally be required to write about the experience in the club newsletter. “We follow Flying’s I Learned About Flying From That concept,” Eby said. The offending member, he said, must use his or her real name. If a member refuses, he or she is out of the club.
A brand-new concept that falls under the flying club umbrella is the recently formed Lakeland Aero Club in central Florida. Started by a group of pilots and other aviation supporters headed by Gulf Coast Avionics’ Rick Garcia, the club’s goal is to help young people earn their pilot certificates. The concept goes beyond traditional training by immersing the young adults in the club, not only the flying aspects but also in running a business by serving as club board members. If the students, mostly from the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, can’t afford to fly, there is a scholarship fund to help them out.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to join a flying club, it’s an experience many pilots can benefit from — and not merely in terms of the money you’ll save. Being around other pilots is a great way to learn and grow. Depending on your style, you can choose to lay low and do your flying alone, or you can recruit groups of pilots to come with you, and even get involved by joining a committee and running for a position on the club board.
Pilots are good people, and the ones I’ve met through my flying club certainly fit the description. There’s just something about hanging out with others who share your life’s passion that can make you feel more connected to this world. And once you join a club, you’ll probably never again ask yourself the question, What am I going to do with my license now? Once you’re in, the possibilities are endless.