Onboarding new members is an exciting prospect, and there is likely a strong motivation for both the club and the new member to get flying quickly. The process of checking out a new member can take many forms, and often your club’s insurance company will have a say on who can do the checkout and what needs to be covered. Beyond that, the rest is up to your club. Too often, the directive is to have the new member do a quick ride with a club CFI to make sure they can fly the airplane okay before setting them loose as a fully checked out club member. Doing this may check all of the boxes, but it misses a big opportunity to make sure your newest member is not only safe, but ready to be a contributing member of your flying club.
The CFI and Beyond
Your club’s approved CFIs play a major role in checking out new members, but don’t expect them to do everything for you! The club safety officer should sit down with designated CFI and go over what items you would like them to cover during the ground and flight portions of the checkout. It is a good idea to have a checklist of items to cover for both portions. Just as important here, go over what you don’t want your CFI to cover on the new member checkout. Remember that the CFI’s time is valuable and is better served to be focused on safely operating the club’s aircraft. Items like aircraft check-in and check-out, cleaning, hangar organization, can be performed by the safety officer rather than a CFI. This is especially true if the designated CFI is not a member of the club and is perhaps not privy to the club’s procedures. Instead, pair up your new member with an existing club member to show them the ropes of how the club likes its aircraft to be stored and handled.
Here is a list of items that can be covered by a fellow club member instead of a CFI:
Don’t forget the little things
For many people, joining a flying club is their first experience with owning an aircraft. If they previously rented from a flight school or FBO then things like fueling, maintenance and aircraft care were handled by “someone else”. Don’t expect new members to know how to properly clean a windscreen, fill the tanks, or tie down after they fly. Having a fellow club member on hand to walk them through these procedures will help avoid frustration when these things either are not done or are done improperly down the line.
Assigning a mentor not only helps smooth operational items, but also helps to acclimatize new members to the club’s social and safety culture. Again, new club members may not have experience with a social flying club and having a “buddy” to make introductions to other members can really help break the ice. As your new member settles in to flying club life, having someone on hand to answer questions is an invaluable resource.
Asking the right questions with aircraft quizzes
If your club plane is like most of the GA fleet, it has been modified and upgraded over its life. The Pilot’s Operating Handbook supplied when the aircraft was new is a great (and official) source of information, but it probably doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s easy to point new members to a dusty box full of manuals and guides for your aircraft systems, or you could have a process to guide them! Write up an open book quiz for your club aircraft that covers the basics like V-speeds and limitations, but also detailed questions about upgrades that your aircraft has. Examples are: What type of fire extinguisher is installed in this aircraft? How does the STC on our engine improve performance? What are the new takeoff distances with the STC? Describe the electrical system in our aircraft. What are the signs of an alternator failure?
The point of the quiz should be to get your new members to dig into the aircraft manuals and review items that they may not have looked at since flight training. By doing this, you are both acclimating new members to your club aircraft and shows them how to find answers in the provided resources. Instead of a box full of manuals, using shared file services like Google Drive are great ways to store manuals and guides for future reference. You can also write up Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and keep them filed online as well. Another tip here: appoint a club member as the librarian to keep on top of these documents and resources. It may take a while to scan old books, but the ease of access will be a great benefit to your club!
As your club grows or has membership turnover, having a smooth process for onboarding and checking out new members will really help your club in the long run. If you want to learn more about new member checkouts, give a listen to our Flying Clubs Radio Episode 17. As always, feel free to contact us with questions and comments. Happy flying!