November 1, 2012

Flying Clubs can Save the Pilot Population One Pilot at a Time

flyingclub1.jpgIn a dimly-lit doctor's office in 2009, my wife and I looked at two beating hearts on an ultrasound and immediately realized our lives were about to change. At the time we could never have known how positive the experience would be, but that is for another post. In the weeks after the ultrasound I started to think about what role flying should have in my life. Flying has always been extremely important to me so the thought of walking away was an unpleasant one. However with the risks of flying and its costs, it was hard not to think seriously about whether I should stay committed to this hobby.

I spent a great deal of time mulling over my options and talking with my family and other pilots. Learning to fly was a lifelong dream that I did not achieve until I was thirty. Since then it has been one of the brightest parts of my life. During my soul searching I realized that I wanted to be sure to teach my kids to follow their dreams, and how could I do that if I walked away from mine? That being said, I still needed to determine how to mitigate some of the other, more "practical" factors including risk and cost.

I determined if I was going to continue to fly I would continually work on becoming the safest pilot possible and I would need to find ways to fly more efficiently. However, that was easier said than done. In most of the country, and definitely in Chicago, the costs of flying continues to rise so it makes it harder to be more proficient on the same budget as a few years ago. As a result of all the life changes and my lack of a plan, 2010 represented the fewest hours flown in a year for me since I started flying in 2004.

hours_by_year.jpgI believe if it were not for Leading Edge Flying Club, my hours would have continued to dwindle away and I would have contributed to the pilot population decline. In Hangar Flying: a Dying Art Form?, I wrote about the Flight School I had been flying with from 2005 to 2010. I knew if I was going to continue to fly I needed to find somewhere new, because while that club had a healthy membership roster, they did nothing to foster social activities between those members, including sharing the cockpit. My trips to the airport were to log an hour or two by myself then return home and those experiences were not doing much to help me grow as a pilot.

I needed and wanted something more out of my aviation experience. AOPA President Craig Fuller said it well when speaking of Flying Clubs, "They make flying more affordable and accessible, often in a social environment that keeps pilots active and engaged." He couldn't have been more accurate. Since joining Leading Edge Flying Club I have been able to get so much more out of my aviation endeavors. Prior to joining Leading Edge I was primarily flying by myself. If I had a budget of two to three hours a month to fly then I was very limited in what I could do with those hours. I essentially had two choices: burn most of my hours in one longer, more fun flight, or spend them all in the pattern and practice area in a groundhog day kind of loop. I was primarily limited to learning from my own experiences and mistakes. Now, I am more frequently sharing the cockpit with one or many pilots. It allows me to seek out better and more fun flying experiences. When I am not Pilot in Command I am still learning from all the other pilots I am flying with, both those more and less experienced than I.

Prior to joining Leading Edge Flying Club my most distant trip was just a few hours away from my home base, primarily due to the cost. This year alone I have gone on a slew of multi-state cross-country flights, including two overnight trips and visited seven states for the first time by General Aviation aircraft. These are aviation adventures that just were not something I could accomplish within my flying budget when I was flying on my own. During those flights I have packed a ton of learning in as well. I landed at my first Class B airport and enjoyed the best vantage point for watching Instrument pilots fly a perfect approaches to minimums. I also have logged time in complex and hi-performance aircraft for the first time since earning my license. These are the exact experiences I was missing out on and their absence could have contributed to me drifting out of the pilot community.

I am not the only pilot and blogger to realize the value of a Flight Club community. Check out fellow Leading Edge Flying Club member Louis Bowers' post "Flying Clubs - Ceiling Unlimited" on his blog, Sky Conditions Clear. Last weekend Louis and I along with four other fellow Leading Edge Flying Club members took three planes and flew out to breakfast. I logged & paid for just under an hour but enjoyed a few hours of flying and aviation conversation and learned a bunch along the way. The photo to the right is from that flight.

It is no wonder AOPA has made their first goal for the newly created Center to Advance the Pilot Community to support the development of a network of Flying Clubs. This Sunday I will be joining Simple Flight Radio hosts Al Waterloo and Marc Epner in a Sunday evening conversation with Adam Smith, Senior V.P. AOPA Center to Advance the Pilot Community and look forward to speaking with him about the role Flying Clubs will play in their efforts. The show is recorded live at 8pm CT so tune in and join in on the conversation!

Posted by at November 1, 2012 10:15 PM
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