Question of the Month: How do we go about adding a club aircraft?

This question comes up quite a lot at the AOPA Flying Club Workshops we are facilitating around the country—see News from HQ for more information on the workshops.  New clubs go through the same basic steps as they decide upon and search for their first airplane.  So, how can you go about the complicated and potentially contentious process of adding a plane to the club fleet?  Well, what the workshops have taught us is that there is no one correct answer.

We cover the topics of aircraft selection and acquisition in detail in the newly revised “Guide to Starting a Flying Club” available at the Downloadable Resources section of our website, and, looking back in the archives of the Club Connector, we had a crack at this question way back in January 2016.  These are excellent resources to help you understand the bigger picture involved, but the reality is that you have to go through a process of discovery as your club’s mission and culture will have a dramatic and unique impact on how you tackle this issue.  

So, rather than provide a prescriptive answer to this multi-faceted question, we’ve prepared a checklist for you to work through to help you get to your answer. We plan to add this checklist to the Downloadable Resources in the near future, but for now, here is the work flow we recommend you follow. 

1. Prework:

  • Survey the club members.  This is easy with free tools such as SurveyMonkey.
    • Find out what the members actually want. Make it anonymous to get their true feelings.
    • Is there a desire to grow the club—members, equipment, both?
  • Report survey findings to a meeting of all club members.
    • The president should establish a Viability Committee to do the initial work and set a date to report back to the membership.

2. ViabilityBackground work and research:

  • Review the club bylaws for possible guidance.
    • Chances are members before you already thought about this and possibly went through a process, and perhaps captured their knowledge.
    • Don’t be afraid to amend the bylaws once you have decided on a path of action, so you capture the new process for future members.

  • Review the club’s mission.
    • The mission has a huge influence on club operations and equipment. What was once true may no longer be applicable or even relevant.  Members change, technology advances, operational goals change—so be sure that you are marching to the desires and requirements of current members, rather than to ghosts of members past.
    • We know of a club that continued to operate in the old way until someone actually asked the question “What do we want to be, now, today?”  In short order they realized they were operating to an earlier legacy that no one actually liked!
    • Ask the question: What do we want to be? Don’t just assume that the current situation is what people actually want!
  • What equipment may satisfy the mission?
    • This, of course, depends on the actual mission— low and slow, fast and IFR, aerobatic, tailwheel, and many other options.  But that is the point here. Decisions have to be made!
    • Draw up a list of equipment attributes that defines the mission, but don’t yet get pulled into a discussion on make and model.  You need to keep a wide-open vision at this stage, rather than be limited by someone’s personal desire to get a particular airplane.
    • Don’t compromise but strive for agreement.  Compromise results in everyone being unhappy—perhaps in different ways, but still unhappy!  You need to push towards agreement, which will require deep discussions about the global good for the club.
  • Take the above and report out to a meeting of all club members.
    • Don’t try to combine with a normal club business meeting – it will simply take too long.
    • The Board should use the club's voting process to establish decisions and ways forward.
    • A flying club is, by definitiona club of equals.  Don’t tolerate bullies.
    • The club may lose some members.  You can’t please all of the people all of the time.
    • At the same time, you will likely attract new blood – generally a good thing.
    • Get to an agreed plan of action – or at least a plan for a plan.
    • The president should establish a Selection Committee to do the next phase of the work—that of identifying possible aircraft and determining budgets and operating costs.

3. Selection:

  • Draw-up a short list of equipment that may satisfy the goals, with due consideration to:

    • Desire versus reality versus cost.
    • Bigger generally means more expensive in terms of operational costs, maintenance, storage (hangar), insurance, etc.
  • Consider the following questions:
    • What if not all members want/can fly the new equipment?
    • How will this affect future club buy-in amounts?
    • How will this affect member equity?
    • Will there be different types of equipment operational privileges that is reflected in monthly dues? (Different aircraft will generally have different usages rates.)
    • Will the bylaws and/or operational rules need to be updated?
  • Develop cost models and budgets for several optionsboth equipment and ownership:
    • Cost of ownership spreadsheets for different make and models.
    • Consider self-financing, loan financing, as well as leasing.
    • Leasing is a good way to test the members' desire for a particular aircraft without having to take on full ownership obligations.
  • Take the above and report out to a meeting of all club members.
    • Get to an agreed plan of action for an aircraft and ownership model.
    • The president should establish a Procurement Committee.
4. Procurement:
  • The procurement committee will research and locate suitable aircraft and financing methods.
    • The committee will address aircraft suitability, title, ownership and damage reports on selected aircraft, pre-buy inspections, actual procurement, use of brokers, loan agents, ferrying, insurance, upgrades, etc.
    • AOPA has many resources available to you during the procurement phase inducing aircraft valuation, tips on buying a used aircraft, fact sheets for many aircraft types, and more.  Take a look at the Buying An Aircraft web page for the details.
  • Take the above and report out to a meeting of all club members.
    • Get to an agreed plan of action for an aircraft and ownership model.

5. Transition Training:

  • Finally, don’t forget to plan ahead for transition training.  Depending on how different your new aircraft is compared to the existing fleet, there may be a considerable learning curve for club members. [See this month's Safety article.] Think about ground training, quizzes, check-outs, etc.  Also, who will do the check-outs? 

Congratulations! You not only have a new aircraft that members will be excited to fly, but in the process, you have involved all members, and have updated the club’s reason for being (its mission) and its organization structure (bylaws).

We’d love to hear how your club went through the process of deciding to expand and the actual resource and procurement phases.  Please email us at [email protected]

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