Question of the Month: How Can We Encourage Mentoring Within Our Flying Club?

Most people would agree that mentoring is a useful and valuable concept within any organization, and people who are involved as mentors (and mentees agree) that it is personally rewarding and extremely beneficial to all involved.  But how can you get started and what types of mentoring opportunities exist within a flying club?

First, let’s move on from the notion that mentoring is somehow remedial or disciplinary in nature.  While mentoring programs can and do provide opportunities for training and improvement, their true value is bringing people with a common purpose together. Sure, one person is generally more experienced than the other, but both the mentor and the mentee should be open to learning and benefiting from the experience.  We’ll talk more about “remedial” mentoring later, but for now let’s look at how mentoring can help new members navigate the structure of a flying club.

From the start

We know of several AOPA Network Flying Clubs that have wonderful mentorship programs, even if they don’t describe them as such - and still others that have integrated mentoring programs into everyday operations.

Some clubs operate formal probationary processes whereby a new member is assigned to an experienced member.  The idea is for the experienced member to guide the newbie through the twists and turns of club operations.  The benefit to the new member is clear – they get to know the right way to do things, including dispatching and checking-in aircraft and learning to use the invoicing system, and they also have an accessible person to turn to for help and advice.  The club benefits because it can evaluate the candidate member to ensure that he or she fits in well with the club’s culture.  At the end of the probationary period, full membership is extended to the candidate.

Other clubs provide similar, but less formal onboarding processes, where new members are “buddied-up” with more experienced members to help them through the initial few months of club membership.  This can be especially beneficial if the new member is a low-time or student pilot.  By consulting with their mentor to review planned cross-countries or discuss scenarios they have questions about, they can gain practical knowledge that is immensely valuable to relatively new aviators. 

Experienced based

One of the truly wonderful things about flying clubs is the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience contained within its ranks.  While we are all pilots and share a passion for aviation, we are also from different backgrounds, have different levels and types of education and possess widely differing skills and talents.  Bear in mind that new members are not necessarily new pilots and that they may very well have both honed aviation skills and life experiences to share. You might think about developing - and sharing with all members - a “talent list,” which catalogs the various skills, backgrounds and talents of club members.  This type of list is invaluable when selecting members to serve on committees and for members to seek help and advice for matters outside of club business.  It can also be used to match mentors to mentees.

It makes sense to pair-up people who can learn from each other, without the notion of rank.  Perhaps the new member is a retired airline captain and the experienced member is a private pilot who has been in the club for 5 years. As you can imagine, both will have lots to offer the relationship.

An example of this occurred recently at the monthly meeting of the Westminster Aerobats Flying Club – the club to which Steve and Michael from the AOPA Flying Club Initiative both belong.   At the meeting, a member with relatively few flying hours who wanted to take some trips for fun asked if more experienced members would help him plan a couple of cross-county flights – one being from Frederick, MD to Tangier Island, VA.  Look at the Washington TAC and Sectional and you’ll see why a low-time pilot would want to have some help—the trip progresses through the DC SFRA, near lots of class-B airspace and multiple MOAs and restricted areas.   Anyway – a good discussion ensued, and it was agreed that Steve would provide some hands-on help. In fact, several other club members asked to be involved, so a mentoring moment quickly turned into a training opportunity!

Remedial mentoring

Following along with recent FAA philosophy, it is better to provide compliance training rather than taking enforcement action.  While your bylaws should contain sections dealing with expectations, discipline and the handling of grievances, these should be considered last-ditch measures, whereas talking to members, assigning training, requiring additional flight checks, etc. are absolutely within the purview of the Board of Directors and/or Officers.  When you next review your bylaws, think about using phrases such as “at the discretion of the Board of Directors,” rather than adding more “regulations.” 

Another option you might consider to defuse a situation and make it less personal, is to assign a mentor outside of the club.   FAA Safety Team Representatives are experienced aviators who volunteer their time and knowledge to further safety in General Aviation and are usually pleased to work with individuals on wide ranging topics.  They also have access to a wide and deep repository of material from the FAASTeam.    You can find a representative near you by using the FAASTeam online directory.

On last thing to consider when matching mentors and mentees – be conscious of factors such as personality differences.  The idea is to put people together who stand a good chance of getting along rather than character clashes getting in the way of progress.

We’d be pleased to hear about how your club handles mentoring and any advice you might have for other clubs.  Please send an email to [email protected] and Steve or Michael will get back to you, so we can share your experience with all AOPA Network clubs.

As always, fly lots and stay safe.

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