About a year and a half ago Al Waterloo quit his job as a corporate pilot flying King Air’s and went into full time flight instructing. He bought a 2004 Cirrus SR20 and had a grand vision that this plane would be the foundation of a flight school on the south side of Chicago at Lansing Municipal Airport (IGQ).
But like many aviation businesses, Al had a tough time getting off the ground. The plane wasn’t flying much, and the Lansing Airport where he’s based was struggling as well. The FBO went out of business so there are no services at the airport and no aircraft to rent.
“That’s how I got onto this flying club idea to turn my own plane into a flying club so people could use and enjoy it and do training if they want,” Al said. “It’s been pretty cool with that mindset shift.”
And with that, Simple Flight Flying Club was born. It’s still very much in its infancy, but Al is hopeful the club will grow and create a community that will be part of reviving Lansing Airport. So far there are about half a dozen members even though the club doesn’t have a web site yet and Al is still doing some of the basic work on creating the structure.
“I’m still in the process of putting the club together,” he said. “It’s essentially changing the flight school model to a club so people can enjoy it. The airplane still costs money whether it’s flying or not so I needed to do something to get the plane flying.”
It wasn’t difficult to get the club started. Al got flight scheduling software and provided members keys to the hangar. As a flight instructor he is qualified to provide the check flights and show members how to operate the aircraft, and he has been very diligent about that.
Some members are doing their primary training in the aircraft, while others are enjoying the Cirrus’s speed, fuel efficiency, and comfort to take the plane on longer cross-country flights. So far members have taken trips to Lake Placid, New York; Asheville, North Carolina; and Maine.
Location, Location, Location
One of Lansing Airport’s main attractions is its location. It is about the same distance to downtown Chicago as other general aviation airports such as Chicago Executive (PWK), which is north of the city in Palwaukee, or Schaumburg Airport to the northwest. However, anyone familiar with Chicago knows traffic heading to the north and west is often heavy, while traffic heading south toward Lansing tends to be much lighter.
“The airport management is cleaning up the airport for the better,” Al said. “The most powerful asset the airport has is its location to downtown. They’re on the reverse commute so in rush hour if you’re coming from the city it’s 35-minutes each way where Palwaukee you’re going with traffic and it could be two-and-a-half hours to get out there.”
Another advantage that makes Lansing attractive is cheaper costs. “Having an airplane at Lansing compared to Palwaukee could be a massive price difference just based on the fixed costs of the airplane,” Al said. A T-hangar at Chicago Executive is about $500 a month and fuel is close to $7 a gallon. Basing Simple Flight Flying Club in Lansing means he can keep costs lower.
Al believes these factors will help generate interest in the club and breath some life into what is now a sleepy airport. “It’s kind of cool to help revamp [the airport] and take this phenomenal asset in the Chicago metro area and try and help put it on the map,” Al said.
To start, the club may have the cheapest costs of any club in the country. Dues are just $15 a month and there are no joining fees at this time. However, there probably will be something nominal, maybe $50, to cover the cost of getting the keys made to the hangar and other administrative costs.
The club charges $199 an hour, Hobbs time, wet. However, there are block discounts – if a member buys a block of 10 hours, the rate is $189/hour or $175/hour for a block of 20 hours.
Inspired by Cirrus
The rates were inspired in part by the Cirrus JumpStart Program, in which Cirrus offers incentives on the purchase of a new aircraft, including subsidizing hourly rates for the airplane for 18 months to help get people into the airplane.
“The JumpStart Program could be very powerful for a club because they get a brand new plane and they would be able to charge an attractive rate,” Al said. “For an equity club with five or six people that want to buy a plane, that could be pretty powerful. Ultimately it’s one of the things I’d like to do is participate in the JumpStart program for the club. We’d have a brand new airplane and an attractive rate, that’s pretty cool.”
Al also praised another tool that Cirrus offers, called the Cirrus Approach, as being beneficial for flying clubs. It is an online portal for Cirrus pilots to be able to use and manage their training.
“There is stuff on landings and maneuvers, a flight operations manual that really engages the student with interactive content,” Al said. “People seeking training can sign up and leverage the online portal to help learn how to shoot approaches, learn power settings. It’s very well done. I can tell you from a flying club standpoint, it’s really nice to be able to lean on that and to leverage that because you can see where the student has progressed. As a club the members can engage and learn the right way and work toward whatever rating they want. It’s a cool way to leverage learning technology to make sure the members have a rich, satisfying experience – in the plane and outside at home.”
Simple Flight uses a new online flight scheduler called Flightcircle.com, which includes a billing system so members can pay by credit card online. It has lower merchant account fees than other systems, which helps make taking credit cards affordable. It also allows for automatic billing rather than having to send monthly bills to members for dues and other costs.
“One of the problems I’ve always found with flying clubs is the ability to take credit cards,” Al said. “Flightcircle.com probably has the most integrated billing system that you can have in scheduling software. It makes it really friendly for people to check the plane in and out. It’s modern so there’s no clipboard anymore. You can do it all from your phone or your iPad.”
Al believes there is a market for flying clubs that provide a modern, technologically advanced aircraft, that are comfortable and attractive to do primary training and cross-country flying. In his opinion clubs don’t necessarily have to focus solely on providing affordable aircraft for low costs.
Although it was a little difficult for Al to shift mentally from his visions of a flight school to that of a flying club, he is adapting to the market and believes by offering a nice airplane that is well maintained and someone has put their heart and soul into, the club will take off.
His goal in starting Simple Flight Flying Cub is to build a little community around an airplane and the airport, to ensure the pilots have opportunities to fly on the south side of Chicago and the Lansing Airport is able to realize a resurgence.
Simple Flight Flying Club
Lansing Airport (KIGQ), Lansing, IL
2004 Cirrus SR20 ($199/hr, $189/hr for a block of 10 hours, or $175/hr for a block of 20 hours)
Rates are Hobbs time, wet.
$15 per month