Safety: Operating Bigger Clubs—Club Harmony and Staying Safe

Every flying club member has to take into consideration factors that a pilot flying a single-owner airplane does not. To help navigate potential differences among a club’s pilots and operate as safely as possible, it can be useful to take these factors into account and actively cultivate a safety culture through the creation of standard operating procedures (SOPs), general guidelines, and a focus on continuing safety education.

With many pilots flying the same airplanes, it is a good idea to consider creating club-wide operating procedures. Club SOPs do not have to be expansive documents like those used by airlines and large flight schools—they can be tailored to fit your club’s unique operation. The club can approach these modified SOPs in two ways and create guidance for both safety and club harmony.  

Here are some questions to ask yourself and address with the club to help build basic SOPs: 

  • Does the club use weather minimums for aircraft checkouts?
  • Is there a continuing education requirement? Does the club require a flight review once a year rather than once every two years?
  • What are the fueling procedures? Should tanks be topped off after every flight?
  • Does the club have a rule about oil levels? What about tire inflation, or a clean windshield?
  • Is there an easy way to share squawks?
  • How is an aircraft grounded, and who returns it to service?

Even with only a few different people sharing the same airplane, removable items tend to disappear. Decide if club pilots will be required to have their own checklists, dipsticks, and fuel strainers or if these items will be available for every airplane. It’s easy to accidentally tuck a checklist into your kneeboard and walk off with it. Fuel strainers fit nicely into flight bags—the smaller ones fit absentmindedly into jacket pockets. If the club does choose to buy a checklist/fuel dipstick/strainer for each airplane, then in the interest of safety and club harmony, label items with tail numbers and consider adding a line to the “Securing” checklist to ensure these items remain in their appropriate airplane.

If the checklist is missing, are you going to “wing it”? You might miss a critical item without it there to double check your work. If fuel dipsticks start mysteriously disappearing, will you stop checking your fuel? If so, a habit of complacency where fuel quantity is not visually checked and verified can permeate the club. In a worst-case scenario, a pilot may rely on a faulty fuel gauge when the tanks are much lower than shown. Fuel exhaustion accidents are highly preventable—but they happen every year.

Encourage club members to participate in continuing education. Send each other technique and safety videos and seek out local aviation seminars. Have the Safety Officer lead discussions on lessons learned from local flights but don’t feel like you have to wait for a meeting to bring it up. Did you learn something new about the airplane on your last flight? Share it with your club members! Email threads can be a highly accessible tool for learning (but do let people opt out!).   Some clubs successfully use a private group in WhatsApp as a way of communicating with members using social media.

Flying clubs are truly wonderful—they mitigate the cost of owning an airplane, they open up doors to varied aircraft, and they allow you to meet like-minded people. And if you and your fellow pilots actively create a safety culture, you’ll enjoy the benefits of club life for years to come.

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