Using club aircraft for long cross-country trips is a wonderful benefit provided by many flying clubs to members, but it pays to check your club’s bylaws and operating rules for the fine print.
Being able to use a club aircraft for long getaways is one of the many advantages of club membership. For obvious business reasons, flight schools and FBOs must ensure that their aircraft and instructors are flying as many hours as possible, so they are rightfully reluctant to let a rental plane go away for a weekend, or longer, while only racking-up a few flight hours each way. On the other hand, many flying clubs encourage members to use aircraft for long weekends and perhaps even longer-duration trips. As with all things in life and flying, preparation is key, so before rushing off and blocking-out the plane for an extended period, there are several points of courtesy and practicality that will need your attention.
The first thing to do is remind yourself (and possibly others if they complain about the plane being away from home base for more than a few hours) of your club’s specific rules around extended usage. Check the club’s bylaws for guidance – things like actual limitations, or perhaps the requirement to book the trip with plenty of notice so other club members can plan around you. Many clubs will also place some minimum hourly charges per day, even if the hours are not actually flown. Every club is different, but here are a few typical rules we find in bylaws and/or operational rules:
- Many clubs use a scheduling/dispatch system that makes it easy for all club members to see when an aircraft is available – or booked. This may also come with the requirement to give notice if the aircraft is to be reserved for longer than the typical couple of hours. This works both ways. Giving notice allows other members to plan around you, and if another member already has the plane booked for a local flight, you have more time to negotiate a change (for this reason, make sure you have the plane booked before doing your detailed arrangements!). This is a great thing about clubs – members know each other and are comfortable in requesting changes in bookings – but, the first-come, first-served rule should be honored whenever possible.
- Clubs usually capture rules about aircraft usage for business trips in their bylaws. Most state that the club aircraft are for personal and pleasure use only, but a lack of detail doesn’t necessarily mean that it is okay to make business trips in club aircraft. It is important to understand if this is a restriction, as it is likely to be a condition of the insurance policy. The club secretary should be able to help you with this.
- Many clubs encourage the use of aircraft for longer-duration trips but check the bylaws or operating rules to determine if a minimum charge will be levied. For example, a club may impose a minimum charge of, say, 2-hours of flight time if the plane is used for an overnight trip, and perhaps a minimum of 4-hours in every 24-hour period. The point here is for members to consciously think about the impact of their trip on other members and on club finances. Going to that campground one flight hour away may be fun, but if the plane is gone for the weekend, other members may be inconvenienced, and the club may lose income.
- As we have spoken about before, bylaws and operating rules should be established to state expected behaviors and to encourage good practices. So, what if one club member repeatedly books the club aircraft for weekend or longer trips, to the extent that others are disadvantaged? We know of some clubs that set monthly or annual limits on the number of hours each member may fly, which often comes across as a bit restrictive. Another club we know decided to keep a flexible policy for “excessive” aircraft usage. The whole point is for members to fly the aircraft, but not at the inconvenience of other members. So, if a particular member makes reservations that repeatedly prevents other members from fairly accessing the aircraft, limits may be imposed by the Board of Directors. This type of flexibility is important and speaks of trust between members – rather than being prescriptive with every rule and limit, give the Board of Directors the power to handle exceptions as, well exceptions.
- What if a maintenance issue arises during your extended usage, and you can’t get the aircraft home? You should make every effort to discuss the issue with a Board Member, but if all else fails, make safe and responsible decisions, and the club will support you, morally and financially.
So, can you use club aircraft to make extended duration trips? Very likely “yes” but read and understand your club’s documents and discuss any concerns with the club secretary, rather than just assuming. Your fellow members will appreciate it.
One last thing – if your bylaws and operating rules don’t explicitly cover the points mentioned above, it might be time for a review of the documents. You can find examples for bylaws and operating rules on the AOPA Flying Club Downloadable Resources webpage. Also, feel free to contact the Flying Club Team if you have questions – about bylaws or anything else to do with Flying Clubs – we’re here to help.