Club Spotlight: The Columbia Aviation Association Plans to Add a Flying Club

The Columbia Aviation Association (CAA) is a pilot organization based in Aurora, Oregon with a long history of promoting general aviation and building community.  Like any good organization that evolves over time, the CAA has been looking for ways to be more relevant to its members. One of the ideas some of the members had was to form a flying club.

“Just before Covid we decided that we were having difficulty getting and keeping members,” CAA Member and Past President Stan Swan said. “We sat down with a group of 10 or 15 members, lots of them former leaders. One of the things that came out of that discussion was to make this a real, honest to God flying club.  That’s where this whole thing came from.”

During Covid, the CAA continued to hold Zoom meetings to keep members engaged, but the idea for a flying club was put on hold until recently. Last year, Stan, along with a few other members, restarted the effort to form a flying club, somehow to be affiliated with the association.

An Association with a Rich History

One of the requirements of the new club is that members must also be members of the CAA. The Association will celebrate its 75th Anniversary in May, having been founded in 1949 as the Columbia Aviation County Club (CACC) in 1949.  The original bylaws limited the club to 200 members, which remains today.  “There was an element of exclusivity then,” Stan said.  “We haven’t been close to 200 members in a long time.”

The original CACC was modeled after the Philadelphia Aviation Country Club based at Wings Field in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, which is just outside of Philly. That club was founded in 1931, and five of its members, working with an aviation activist named Joseph B, (Doc) Hartranff, later founded AOPA, in 1939.

Even though Oregon is on the other side of the country, the CACC was also conceived at Wings Field. Another Doc, named L.S. (Doc) White, visited the Philadelphia Aviation Country Club along with Wally Timm on their way back from a trip to Washington, D.C.  The two felt the need for an organization to promote general aviation in the Portland area, particularly as the industry was literally taking off in the post-WWII years.

Initially based at Portland International Airport (KPDX), CACC relocated to Aurora State Airport (KUAO) in 1994 and changed its name to the Columbia Aviation Association.  From the outset, the organization has been dedicated to fostering aviation safety, education, mentoring, and outreach through guest speakers, fly outs, and its Flight Profile program.

“That history of flyouts kind of set the tone,” Stan said.  “Back in those days, the members were making an attempt to publicize the utilization, the utility of General Aviation airplanes.”  In the early days they organized a trip of 60 airplanes from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, and they also did a flyout to Havana, Cuba way back in the day, he said.  Up until a few years ago, they would organize a Thanksgiving flyout to Punta Pescadero at the tip of Baja California

Today they try to do about five flyouts a year. They vary from going somewhere relatively close, like just over the Cascade Mountains to the high desert or a longer trip to Monument Valley, Utah. The closer trips may attract as many as 15 aircraft. The Monument Valley trip will be a mix of aircraft and “POWs” – Pilots on Wheels, who are members who no longer fly but have RVs and will drive to a flyout destination.

“We find flyouts really increases the camaraderie,” Stan said.  “If you go on a big long weekend trip with a bunch of your buddies, you get to know them quite well.”

Like a traditional flying club, the CAA provides a place for its members to participate in aviation activities and enjoy the camaraderie of other pilots.  They also like to poke fun at each other in the name of safety.  There is an award – the Honorable Association of the Fractured Airscrew, or HAFAS, given to people who have bent airplanes.  It’s an old Mooney Mite prop damaged when one of the early members landed gear up and it has everyone’s name on it that has received the award.

“What we’re providing is an aviation community to pilots,” Stan said.  “It’s a fairly common thing for people to get their private pilot license and look around and say, ‘Now what do I do?’ We provide them with a weekly input of aviation stuff, plus the fact we have a lot of people with expertise and experience that are always willing to share.  It provides that community for a lot of pilots that may not have a community.”

The club has about 130 members today with a variety of backgrounds, including current or retired airline and military pilots, in addition to GA pilots. In the early days, most members owned their own airplanes. That is not the case today.

One of the reasons fewer members have their own aircraft is about five years ago, the association changed the eligibility requirement for membership to include student pilots. Previously, members had to have at least their private pilot certificate. The logic for the change was to tap into people when they are most excited and really interested in flying—and that is when they are student pilots, Stan said. “It made a huge difference. It increased our membership by a significant amount.”

To join the club, there is a $200 initiation fee and dues are $475 a year.  Most of that money goes to maintaining the club’s facility, which is about 6,000 square feet and has a kitchen, bar, dining room, and meeting space. 

Having the facility gives the CAA a place to meet and is something they have had since they were formed.  “One of the things that brings people together is that we have dinner every Thursday night,” Stan said. There is a full-service bar, a catered dinner for $20 and a program afterward.

On a typical Thursday night, about 35 to 40 members will show up. In the spring, they have a series of three meetings called the Flight Profile, which is a ground school series. Think about it like an AOPA Rusty Pilot Seminar spread out over three weeks, followed by a one-hour flight with a CFI.

“Back in that day, I think a lot of the pilots were not instrument rated and they didn’t fly in the winter time,” Stan said.  “The planes got put away for three of four months, particularly here were it rains all the time, and then they climbed in the airplanes and they were really rusty.  They came to the conclusion that they needed to fix that.”

The program began in 1968 and may meet the requirements of an FAA flight review.  The best part is that it is free.  Members who are flight instructors donate their time to help ensure other pilots are flying safely.

The rest of the year, weekly presentations may be members sharing personal experiences or guest speakers talking about military aviation, regional aviation activity, or notable aviators and astronauts.  Some of the past presenters included former United States Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill McPeak and Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager just after their record setting flight around the world in the Voyager.

One speaker in particular left a lasting impression.  The idea for a flying club started to gain traction after the AOPA Flying Club Initiative’s own Steve Bateman gave a presentation to the CAA last year.

Forming the Club

“We said, he knows about flying clubs, let’s see what he has to say,” Stan said. “He’s so excited about flying clubs and has all the information you would want.” They put together a meeting that attracted about 15 people who might be interested in forming a club and met with Steve on Zoom to get more information. Afterwards, “A bunch of us said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Stan said.

There is a steering committee of four people that are creating the structure of the club and developing the necessary documents required. The committee will likely become the first board.  Aric Krause is the president, Stan is the treasurer, there is a secretary and one other member volunteered to put the bylaws together.  Other board positions they plan to add include a safety and maintenance officer, as well as a chief pilot.

So far, they have completed the articles of incorporation, and they have a first draft of the bylaws. The group looked at the bylaws of other local clubs to use as a blueprint for developing their own. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Stan said.

One of the reasons some of the CAA members thought a flying club would be a good idea, is that airplane ownership is not for everyone. Although a lot of people would like to own an airplane, they can’t pull it off financially. The thought was having a flying club open only to CAA members would help attract new members to the association, as well as give current CAA members access to aircraft.

“With the addition of new pilots to the membership, we have an awful lot of them saying I really want to buy an airplane,” Stan said. “They were planning on buying an airplane but were really open to the flying club idea.”

There are no flying clubs at Aurora State Airport, and “flying clubs are few and far between here,” Stan said.  “There is one in Salem, which is about 50 miles south of Portland and there is another one maybe 15 miles to the east of us.”  A check on AOPA’s Flying Club Finder found two other clubs, about 30 miles to the north. For most of CAA’s members, those clubs are too far.

Choosing an Aircraft, or Two or Three

In forming a flying club, one of the important decisions is whether to be an equity club and buy an airplane or form a non-equity club and lease a plane. Part of that decision making process might include determining the kind of flying members want to do and choosing an aircraft that will fulfill that mission (See this month's Aircraft Spotlight). Finances also play an important part of choosing an aircraft.

And sometimes opportunity drives the decision. When the group first started meeting to form the club, Aric mentioned the local EAA chapter had a Cessna 120 that they were trying to sell. He is a member of the chapter, which was started by Van’s Aircraft founder Dick VanGrunsven many years ago. Aric also works at Van’s, which is headquartered at Aurora State Airport.

Acquiring a vintage taildragger is usually affordable, has low operating and maintenance costs, and is great for members who are interested in stick and rudder flying in the local area.  Those were all things that the group liked. However, the plane needed too much work and they decided to pass. They’re still interested in getting a taildragger and there is a Luscombe in the area for sale that they are looking at.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is getting a plane that is modern, fast, and good for cross country travel, but might have higher costs. One plane that fits that description is the Cirrus, and it just so happens there is a Cirrus owner on the field that may be interested in leasing his aircraft to a club. So that is an option being explored.

“Talking about taildraggers and Cirrus, I immediately said those two airplanes are not going to be attractive to everybody,” Stan said. “If you really want to have plenty of people in this club, we’re going to have an airplane in the middle of these two.”

He pointed out that it would be beneficial to have airplanes for all skill and experience levels because club members are likely to have a broad range of flying capabilities.  Something like a Cessna 172 would be perfect for the “in between” aircraft Stan said.

As it stands now, because of the opportunities and availability for club aircraft, “we’re probably going to be a combination equity club and non-equity club,” Stan said. The Cirrus would be leased and if they can find a taildragger, they’ll probably have to buy it. As for a 172, Stan is hoping they might get lucky and find one that they can lease.

Finances and Insurance

Besides determining what aircraft will be in the fleet, they still have to work out the details on finances and insurance.  Stan mentioned the need to find out the insurance requirements for taildraggers, as well as how rates differ depending on the number of members in the club.  They haven’t set a membership goal yet, but “the figure 15 sticks in my mind,” Stan said. “But it’s not something we have discussed yet.”

Steve Bateman provided guidelines and best practices on the number of members per airplane and explained that insurance companies like to see at least five people to be considered a club. Once the bylaws are complete, the founders will submit the paperwork for tax exemption under 501(c)(7).

“I have to admit the financing piece is the thing that is the most daunting,” Stan said. “It’s all a great idea. We all want to have great airplanes to fly, but the bottom line is you have to have money to do that. Then getting the money and making sure you do a good job with it. It’s a bit of a daunting hump that we have to get over in getting this thing started.”

One thing they have done is to establish the flying club as an independent entity with no legal connection to the CAA.  The club committee has made a presentation to the association about the formation of the club at a recent Thursday night dinner, which was positively received.

Since the idea for a flying club “came out of the discussion on how to make CAA more viable and relatable, what we have decided is you need to be a member of CAA first, then you could be a member of the flying club,” Stan said.

The creation of the club will give pilots in the Portland area access to aircraft and will provide the members of the Columbia Aviation Association another avenue to experience camaraderie and community, with the closely affiliated flying club.

For a detailed discussion on how a pilot association may add a flying club component, see this month’s Question of the Month, “Can a Pilot Association Become a Flying Club, and if so, how?”



Columbia Aviation Association


Aurora State Airport (KUAO)

Aurora, OR


Facebook (private group)


See web site contact page

Year formed




Joining fee



$475 per year






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