As you’ve no doubt realized by now, this edition of Club Connector is all about celebrating the 150th flying club that the AOPA Flying Clubs Initiative has helped start.
Bald Eagle Aviation Club embodies the passion, tenacity and hard work that is required when starting a flying club, and the two founders, Mike Whitehill and Kevin Collom persevered and, after some 920 days from when we initially spoke, the club become operational earlier this year.
Being operational means that all members can enjoy the fruits of the founders’ labor, but of course the work doesn’t stop—although it takes on a different intensity and direction. All newly formed clubs go through the initial honeymoon phase, where everyone is flying like crazy and everyone is still on good terms with everyone else, but after about 6-12 months the club settles into a cadence of operations, meetings, and so on.
We wrote about “Beyond the Honeymoon” in the April 2019 edition of club connector, and it is a good article for any new club to review in preparation for the “normalcy” that may creep into club operations. In this article, we look a little closer in—to the first 100-days, and what a club could do to keep things interesting, right from the start.
Here is a list of suggestions for a new club to consider as it navigates the initial courtship that will eventually lead to the honeymoon!
Club Culture: During the first 100-days the club culture will start to shake-out, whether you like it or not. It is also the time when all club members are eager and excited to help—so encourage them!
Think of the club as a “start-up”—the people with the passion and drive to “just get it done” may not be the right people to keep it going long term. So, a good activity for the initial board of directors is to start noticing, and grooming, their successors. Your bylaws should already detail elections, board positions and so on, but remember that bylaws can—and should—be revised. In fact, we suggest that the most important clause in any set of bylaws is this one that that explains how to amend them!
As more members join, keep them engaged and busy by creating additional officer positions. You’ll already have safety and maintenance officers in place, but start recruiting the membership officer, social officer, outreach officer and others. Outreach officer? Your club has the opportunity to educate and inform—and not just the members, so think about how your clubs paints itself to the community and how you can help influence and educate your neighbors. (As an aside, the Outreach Officer should be the person that interfaces with the press and other media groups, which is a good way for the club to get noticed through “local interest” stories.)
The first 100-days are truly formative and can set the direction of the club for years to come, so other cultural aspects to consider right from the start are financial transparency, mutual respect, inclusiveness, and shared responsibility.
Safety culture: Again, if you don’t actively define your safety culture, one will emerge, and you may not like it. Now is the time to define and follow a method to ensure that club members stay proficient, and not just current. A culture of safety is essential for any pilot, but particulary for a club, where positive mentoring is such a powerful positive tool, yet where complacency and poor examples, especially from members who are perceived, rightly or not, as “a good stick”, can have an equally powerful negative impact.
We’ve done a lot of work this year on the notion of a club’s safety culture and we recently introduced WINGS for Clubs. The FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) WINGS program is exactly what clubs need. Many of us use the faasafety.gov website as a source of courses, quizzes, seminars and webinars, where members can stay proficient in aviation knowledge, but WINGS is so much more than that. You can earn a “phase” of WINGS by completing within 12-months, three knowledge tasks and three flight tasks, with a CFI. These tasks are well documented with background material and worksheets designed to conform to the ACS—Airmen Certification Standards. Compare this with the “currency” requirements of a Flight Review. Instead of the predictable minimum 1-hour of ground and 1-hour of flight time every 24-calendar months, competing a phase of WINGS gets you flying with a CFI three times a year, so you go beyond currency and strive for proficiency. Oh, by the way, completing a phase of WINGS also qualifies as a flight review.
Truly, there is no downside to anchoring your club’s safety culture on the WINGS program. For more information on WINGS for Clubs and how you can introduce it to your club, see:
Regular meetings: We regularly work with long-time clubs that are having problems getting members to attend meetings. Invariably, when we dive into the issues, we see a common theme—the meetings are predictable and boring!
The first 100-days is the time to set the rhythm and style of your club’s meetings. Yes—the board reports are important, especially the treasurer’s report, but do allow time for the officers to update members on their areas. Things like a maintenance report (past and future maintenance) should be a given but give time to other officers for their contributions.
Wait—has he forgotten about the safety officer’s report? No, not at all. In fact we recommend that you lead the formal meeting with some social mingling time and then a club safety session, and share the love and invite non-members so more people can learn, and you’ll get a reputation of being a safety-conscious club. You can get more information of running an effective club meeting, here: Tips for interesting club meetings.
Growing your club: You may have heard us say this before, but it is absolutely true— “Build it and they will come”. Perhaps you struggled in the early days to get enough interest in the club, especially if you didn’t yet have an aircraft and for many forming clubs, they need members to be able to afford an airplane. Now, however, you are operational! You have the three Ps of flying clubs: People (members), Plane(s) and Procedures, and you can start building on all three. We talk a lot about growing your club (members and aircraft) during our Flying Clubs Workshops, so keep an eye out for dates of the next sequence of workshops. Here are some good reminders of topics related to growing your club:
Prepare for the honeymoon and beyond: As we mentioned earlier, things will start to settle down as the club matures into its operations and relationships, so embrace this period of change. Rereading “Beyond the Honeymoon” will help you prepare for this inevitable part of the life-cycle of a flying club.
One last thing – you have worked hard to get to this point, so don’t forget to fully enjoy it.
As always, fly lots and stay safe.