Question of the Month: Can a Club Enter into A Reciprocal Use Agreement with Another Club?

We rarely get a question that we can answer with a definitive yea or nay. Most flying club and other aviation questions require vague responses such as “may be”, followed by an examination of rules, regulations and interpretations. This one, however, is definitive and is categorially and resoundingly…NO!

We do see the point and intent, though.  Perhaps flying club A operates a Piper Lance, whereas flying club B has a Stinson.  Members of both clubs agree that it would be nice to have access to both planes, so they can share the features of the aircraft with a wider group of pilots.  All they have to do is include each other’s member roster on the scheduling system, and off they go…right?  Again, a resounding…NO!

Regular readers of Club Connector will know that flying clubs, whilst not themselves identified in any Federal Aviation Regulation (unlike members who, when acting as PIC must abide by all regulations relating to their certificate and the certification of the aircraft), clubs are most definitely controlled in behavior, operations and membership—especially those clubs that operate from airports that have received public funding and are so obligated under “grant assurances”.   This applies to pretty much every public use, publicly funded airport and even some privately owned airfields.  See the link at the end of this article to determine if your airport is so obligated.

With the demise of Advisory Circular 00-25, the legal book-of-words pertaining to flying clubs is FAA Order 5190.6: The Airport Compliance Manual and its Amendment.  Surprisingly, the amendment did not revise the Order from version 6B to 6C and so it is still relatively unknown by airport managers, FSDOs and others. 

The Order is quite clear in the definition of a flying club (operating at a federally obligated airport):

…a flying club is a nonprofit or not-for-profit entity (e.g., corporation, association, or partnership) organized for the express purpose of providing its members with aircraft for their personal use and enjoyment, only.

The definition continues to state that club aircraft must be vested in the name of the club and (equally) owned by all its members.  As an aside, in a Directors Determination, the FAA expanded the meaning of “ownership” to include the case of clubs that lease aircraft.  More details can be found in Question of the Month in the March 2018 edition of the Club Connector newsletter.

It is clear, then, that only club members can fly club aircraft and those members must have an equal responsibility for those aircraft.  To do otherwise, for example non-members acting as PIC in club aircraft, would mean that the “club” is acting as a provider of commercial aviation services (such as an FBO renting aircraft), which puts the operation on a whole different footing, as detailed in the Amendment.  Moreover, you may get into big trouble with the airport, FAA, IRS and your insurance company.

So, there can be no notion of one club providing reciprocal services to another club.  They are separate organizations, with separate members and operate aircraft for those members, only.

Perhaps the same end can be achieved by looking at the intention—which let’s assume is that club members want to get access to aircraft not in the club’s fleet, or perhaps to fly in an area different from home base.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with buddying-up with other clubs to participate in fly-outs (and ins!), club meetings, safety sessions and so on.

Working with the assumption that your club members want access to different airplanes and different flying experiences, let’s look at a few ways you can achieve the same end, but without becoming a rogue club:

Change the fleet.  This sounds a bit drastic, but we know of at least one club that discovered during a strategic planning survey of members, that they all would prefer a different club aircraft!  So, ask the question—are members still satisfied with the club’s mission and equipment?  If not, change it!

Expand the fleet.  If members are looking for different flying experiences, perhaps it is time to expand the fleet.  This can get a bit involved, as everyone will likely have a different airplane in mind, so we suggest you review Chapter 7 in “The Guide to Starting a Flying Club”, as well as read the Club Connector article Question of the Month July 2019: How do we go about adding a club aircraft?

Expand your reach.  If you want to expand your radius of operations and attract new members, think about setting up multiple bases of operations—under one club banner, of course. Depending on your location, this may look like a “wing” of your club at a resort airport, an island strip, a floatplane base—anything that fits your dream and mission.  This is the theme of this month’s Flying Club Spotlight.  We also spoke about this back in 2014, when we followed the Octopus Flying Club as it expanded operations from its home base in Maryland, to additional location in Florida.

Merge with another club.  We have heard of situations where one club might think about “amalgamating” with another.   Perhaps the clubs operate from the same airport or at least close by, and they see value in joining together to get economies of scale.  As mentioned earlier, only club members can fly that club’s aircraft, so merging the clubs would appear to be a solution.  It’s not quite as easy as merging the rosters, as presumably both clubs are established as legal entities (non-profit corporation or LLC) in their respective states, and aircraft for each club are likely owned and registered, or leased, in the name of each club.  The way around this would be close down one club and transfer its assets to the other club (or close down both ands start from scratch).  We strongly advise you to speak with a business lawyer in your state to ensure that this is done correctly, and to minimize tax (including sales tax) implications.


Is Your Airport Federally Obligated?

To determine if your airport is federally obligated (has received federal funds for improvements and so is held to the contract of grant assurances), follow this link 

Enter the three-character airport identifier—for example FDK for Frederick Airport—and click on SUBMIT. 

On the “General Information Tab”, which is the initial page that pops up, scroll down to the NPIAS line (National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems). 

It will look something like: NPIAS/Federal Agreement: NGY

The NGY means:  N = Airport is in the NPIAS.  G = Grant Obligations. Y = Civil rights related assurance (always accompanies G).  The other letter that you might see is “S” = Surplus Property—meaning the airport land is obligated in perpetuity. 

An airport that is not bound under grant assurance will not have any codes on the NPIAS line, for example at York Airport, in Pennsylvania (THV)


As always, fly lots and fly safe.

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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