Question of the Month: Operating Rules

Last month we looked at bylaws, which outline how a club operates by providing the framework, structure, and policies for the club. So what are operating rules? This information can be found in AOPA’s Flying Clubs Resource Library of short, informative articles that break down the components of forming a flying club and how a club operates.

In addition to the club’s bylaws, which govern how the club is run, formal operating rules outlining how members may use the aircraft are a necessity. They lay the foundation for your club to operate safely and efficiently, and they set the standards for members to be good partners with one another. In short, the operating rules help create and sustain the culture for the club.

The most effective operating rules define how members should fly and care for the club’s aircraft, as well as procedures for scheduling flights, performing basic maintenance, and other details of using the aircraft, which can help create a sense of ownership and ensure a positive experience for every member every time they get into – and out off - the plane.

The rules should cover everything from fueling the aircraft to how to report maintenance issues, including what happens if there is an issue away from your home airport. The rules may also outline proficiency requirements, whether night flying or IFR flying is allowed, how long an aircraft can be scheduled, what the daily minimums are if you take the plane for an extended trip, and how the plane is cleaned and put away after returning from a flight including correct tie-down procedures. 

Other topics the rules might cover include the maximum number of members in the club, the types of memberships available, such as social or non-flying memberships, how many reservations an individual can have booked at one time, and how to resolve scheduling conflicts if they should arise.  

The operating rules might include maintenance practices, such 50-hour oil changes and inspections, how to report maintenance issues and how that gets communicated to other members, and what maintenance issues would ground the aircraft – as well as the grounding procedure.

Operating rules also provide guidance when problems arise, and go a long way in preventing issues becoming personal, because members are clear on what they can and can’t do. The rules may outline who pays the insurance deductible if there is an incident with the aircraft, when monthly dues and hourly rates are collected, and what to do if someone is late making their payments. 

It’s important to include the members when developing the club’s operating rules, not only to ensure everything is covered, but also to build camaraderie and a sense of ownership in how the club operates and how the planes are cared for. 

This may be the first time many general aviation pilots are operating an aircraft with a set of rules, so take the time to go over the details with new members. It helps the club operate more professionally and safely.

Your club will evolve over time, and the rules will need to be updated periodically. These updates should reflect the experience gained as a club, improvements to operations, and successful ways the club has solved problems.

Many clubs have their operating rules posted online and AOPA has examples of rules that your club can use a model for drafting your own operating rules. 

View a sample operating agreement.

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