Question of the Month: What are Some Best Practices for Flying Clubs?

What a wonderful question!  On the journey from “good to great”, a flying club would do well to review its values and practices on a regular basis.  It would make sense to include this in the recommended bylaw review and strategic planning session, every 24-months or so (calendar months, of course).

To help this along, the AOPA Flying Clubs Team has created a “Standards, Values and Best Practices” document, that, as it sounds, outlines the standards for clubs to be enrolled as an AOPA Network Club, suggests some values to which a well-run club could aspire, and then presents some best practices that support those values.

Let’s be clear, though.  We are not trying to tell you how to run your club, and we recognize that every club should be unique in ways that define its background and culture.  Rather, based on years of experience and, to date, that we have helped more than 160 new clubs (to date) get their flying start, we “know a thing or two, because we’ve seen a thing or two”, and we’d like to share this with you.

We are careful to word the values and best practices as suggestions—as goals that clubs could work towards—rather than rules and regulations.  How you establish your club rules and operations is, to a degree, up to you, but as we have mentioned many times in Club Connector, whilst not “regulated” as such in the FARs, flying clubs and their members most definitely do need to comply with rules and behaviors expected by the FAA and by airport operators—after all, following the rules is at the very core of best practices. These rules are found in an array of FAA Orders, Amendments, Directors’ Determinations, Letters of Interpretation, etc. and cover everything from fundamental operating behaviors (non-commercial), using club aircraft for training, the 100-hour inspection question, expectations for clubs to lease aircraft (from someone), and more.  You’ll find links to Club Connector and documents that dig into many of these rules at the end of this article.

Many airports publish their own rules and regulations for flying clubs (and other tenants), which are usually extracts from FAA Order 5190.6B (section 10.6 “Flying Clubs).  Airports may also add rules depending upon local conditions, but none should ever break from the cardinal obligations of non-exclusivity and fair play to all users and tenants.  Whilst all publicly funded airports will definitely know about FAA Order 5190.6B, “The Airport Compliance Manual”, many, surprisingly, do not know about the Amendment, which is a really important document for flying clubs, as it clarifies the rules for the compensation of CFIs and A&Ps, and makes it quite clear that flying clubs should not “hold-out” to the general public, and most definitely should not be advertising flight instruction, learn-to-fly-with-us, provide discovery flights, etc.  If you have any questions about this, please contact the AOPA Flying Clubs Team.

In the Standards, Values and Best Practices document we look at these traits of a well-run club: Equality; Accountability; Cooperation; Safety; Camaraderie; Community; Participation.  Rather regurgitate in its entirety, we’ll instead steer you towards two of these topics that will keep your club humming and keep it on the right side of the FAA, IRS, airport manager, and your insurance company.

  1. Safety:

Nothing yells “good club” as loudly as one that has a strong safety culture.  We talk a lot about this in the Flying Clubs Workshops (more coming in early 2021), and we mean much more than just talking about it.  We are striving for high levels of proficiency for all members, and we strongly advocate using the FAA WINGS program (see WINGS for Clubs, in the later list) as the basis of your safety culture. 

By the way, be clear that this is not the same as currency (recency) which is a regulatory requirement placed on every airman.  Clubs should not be tempted take on responsibility for members’ currency, by, for example, mandating 12-month flight reviews or otherwise “second guessing” the FARs, as this could place some unintended liability consequences on the club. 

So, strive for proficiency.  Fly lots, but not the same hour over and over again.  Use the WINGS program for flight activities, so members fly and learn from a CFI at least 3 times a year, rather than the chore of the 24-calendar month flight review.  Oh…and if all club members follow the program, you will be in a good position to negotiate a discount on your next insurance premium.

Here are some recommended safety best practices:

  • It is considered a best practice for clubs to implement a formal safety program, and to hold regular safety meetings (or add a safety component to membership meetings). It is recommended that clubs create the position of a Safety Officer to lead this effort.Embrace WINGS for Clubs as the basis of the club’s safety culture
  • Standardized procedures should be developed and made available to club members to ensure that an operational consistency is maintained
  • Club stand-downs should be held to focus member attention on relevant safety issues
  • Open reporting of mishaps and/or lessons learned should be encouraged by the club, and such instances should be thoroughly discussed and viewed as educational opportunities that benefit all members

2. Community.

All flying clubs should strive to be good neighbors to other organizations at the airport and to the wider community. Clubs should work to cultivate strong relationships with flight schools, FBOs, and airport authorities, and never offer, or advertise, any type of service that might present unfair competition to commercial operators. Social events represent a good way to bring members, friends of the club, families, other airport tenants and interested prospective members together. Through outreach and conduct, flying clubs should work to cultivate an atmosphere of community and awareness of general aviation.

Here are some recommended best practices for community involvement:

  • Clubs are uniquely positioned to serve as ambassadors for general aviation, and it is good practice to take advantage of this opportunity by reaching out to the community and share the wonder of flying. This can be achieved by hosting events open to the public at the airport, or by creating educational experiences for community groups such as Boy Scouts, 4H clubs, etc. Remember to fully involve your Airport Operator with all such events
  • It is recommended that clubs actively work to forge strong relationships with all airport stakeholders, including airport management, other tenants and commercial operators. This can be accomplished through open communications, and by inviting other parties at the airport to club events
  • In the spirit of fairness as well as lawfulness, clubs should adhere to FAA rules that clearly prohibit “holding out,” or advertising services, particularly flight training services, to the public. This includes soliciting for members based on the implication of learning to fly. Because clubs are not required to meet the minimum standards imposed on commercial operations, it places flight schools and FBOs at an unfair disadvantage when flying clubs (nonprofit or not-for-profit social operations) compete for their customers.
  • While it is acceptable for flying club members to receive training in a club aircraft (in the same way they could in their own), clubs should neither provide flight instruction nor facilitate financial transactions between instructors and club members. Instead, these transactions should be between the member receiving training and the flight instructor that the member has chosen, and so should not go through the club’s financial system

As promised, here are some links to documents, Club Connector and Flying Clubs Radio editions that provide a lot more detail on topics that should be considered as best practices for well run, successful flying clubs:

Can a flying club lease an aircraft, and if so, how does it work?

Is my club required to perform 100-hour inspections on club aircraft?

Flying Clubs Radio E10: The 100-hour inspection question

Can a club enter into a reciprocal use agreement with another club?

How can my club have a say in airport operations?

How can flying clubs encourage members to stay proficient?

Flying Clubs Radio E8: WINGS for Clubs

How do flying clubs set their fee structures—and how do members join and leave a club?

Can a flying club employ people?

Beyond the honeymoon: how do we keep things interesting?

How can my club go about strategic planning?

How can we encourage mentoring within our flying club?

What can a club do to help with community awareness and outreach?

As a flying club member, can I use club aircraft to receive flight instruction and pay an instructor?

Ramp checks for clubs

Operating rules

What is the difference between bylaws and operating rules?


Well, that should keep you busy!  As always, please do contact Steve and Drew if you have any flying club questions: [email protected]

Stephen Bateman
Contributor, You Can Fly Program
Steve retired from AOPA in April 2024, but continues to contribute to You Can Fly programs. Contact Steve at [email protected]

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