Flying clubs are a fantastic opportunity for pilots to enjoy access to a fleet of aircraft at a cost that is reasonable, because it is shared over the group. When considering joining a flying club there are a number of things to consider.
First, is it run by a non-profit organization or for profit Investment Management Company? Both have their benefits and also their pitfalls. When dealing with a non-profit organization it is very common that certain club members are also the administrators. This can lead to challenges, and in larger clubs the development of a “faction mentality.” For instance, what company is going to do the maintenance on the aircraft? If the administration is taking bids and choosing the highest quality with the lowest cost, then they are doing a good job. However, the world of aviation is small and frequently administrators may look to other factors such as friendship, outside business relationships, or family to drive business to. Imagine a circumstance in which a club administrator is a CPA and one of h/her clients happens to be the shop that works on club aircraft. Is this a bad thing? Hard to determine, but will certainly cause contention amongst the ranks.
A for profit club on the other hand will have all of these relationships established, and will not be open to input. That being said however, a for-profit club is set up to be cost competitive in order to attract your business. You vote with your wallet, and like any business you can be sure that the management company that runs your club is looking for every opportunity to maximize their profit through backend efficiency and often vertical integration.
Second, why am I joining and what type of flying do I have in mind? Are you a novice who still needs to get your Private Certificate? If so, then a club oriented around training will be the best fit. On the other hand if you already have the ratings that you want and are looking for an opportunity to book long cross countries and multiple day trips than you should consider a club that does not allow any training to make sure you have the opportunity to take airplanes that are not bogged down by two hour trips to the practice area.
Third, how are the financials structured around maintenance and upkeep? It is important that every for hour an airplane flies that the correct amount of money be placed in a reserve fund. This is paramount in avoiding bothersome and frequently ridiculous “assessments.” There is nothing worse than getting a letter in the mail that lets you know that you are responsible for hundreds of dollars to go toward an engine overhaul on an airplane that you have not even flown.
Fourth, how is the club structured, and what is your personal liability if a club airplane is involved in an accident. This comes down to two important points: making sure each aircraft has adequate hull and liability insurance, and making sure that your membership in the club does not open your personal assets up to forfeiture in the case of a civil judgment resulting from somebody else’s mistake.
Fifth and most important, is this club something your family will enjoy as well? Most of us have families and joining a flying club can be an expensive commitment. I recommend clubs that not only cater to your needs as a pilot, but to their needs as well. Some clubs include other things than airplanes, such as boats, atvs, personal watercraft and the like. Sure, you may only care about flying, but a day on the lake with the kids may be more their style than that annual fly-in that you are so excited about. Life is about balance, and a flying club should be fun for everyone.