Regular readers of this blog know I make no secret of my affection for flying clubs. My devotion to the concept is based on the wealth of opportunity these clubs can offer. In a nutshell, my thinking goes like this: If there is a better method of cutting the cost of flying, establishing a long-lasting social bond with fellow aviation enthusiasts, and spreading the word that general aviation is within the reach of the average man or woman, I haven’t found it.
So there’s no great wonder that I accepted a lunch invitation from a young fellow who wanted to talk about his plans to form a flying club. Now, I like the idea of bringing younger participants into the field, and since I have no particular aversion to eating lunch, and the restaurant he recommended we meet at is less than 50 yards from my office, it seemed like a low risk endeavor. I accepted his invitation.
Over the course of our leisurely lunch, while sitting on the restaurant’s porch, overlooking the ramp and runways at Winter Haven, Florida’s Gilbert Field, my young friend laid out an impressive batch of paperwork. He’d put significant thought into creating his plan. He’d searched out a variety of existing clubs and recognized he had considerable latitude in the direction his club might take, and he included a batch of print-outs for aircraft that are currently on the market. He was loaded for bear. He knew what he wanted to do, he knew how he wanted to do it, he knew who his potential club members were, and he had even made allowances for large ticket maintenance expenses that might not be foreseen during the clubs inception.
Here’s the kicker, though. My young friend is not a pilot. Let that idea simmer for a moment. Consider what that really means. A non-pilot, with no general aviation experience, asks to sit down to discuss his idea for launching a flying club at his local airport.
Could it be that general aviation has the power to attract the entrepreneurially minded to the airport? Apparently so.
That being the case, I have to wonder why we not encouraging this sort of thing more often? In the case of my young friend, he already knows what he intends to do. And yes, he intends to launch this club in the coming months. He’s not whistling Dixie, he’s not looking for a pat on the back. This fellow holds an advanced degree and is a respected professional. But he’s looking at aviation as a way of extending his professional reach, enhancing his networking potential, and opening the door to a more adventurous life that he can latch onto with pride.
I found the entire presentation to be exhilarating. So let’s consider the potential outcomes of this venture.
Option 1: He could fail. He wouldn’t be the first and he won’t be the last. But he could lose his investment and his club could fold.
Will the potential negative outcome ruin his life? Not hardly. Will it set him back so much he will never fully recover financially (no), emotionally (no), or socially (no). Given those conditions, this would appear to be a reasonably viable business venture that would allow him to do something special with his life and his career.
Option 2: He succeeds. He learns to fly. He helps others learn to fly. The club allows local businessmen to get out to the airport and challenge themselves in a way they haven’t before. They become true enthusiasts. They bring their entrepreneurial spirit to the airport and find ways to expand on the economic bounty the airport offers the community that surrounds it and supports it. GA at Gilbert Field gains economic clout, political clout, educational clout, and thrives as a result.
Yeah, given those two options I can see why a young man with no aviation background is doing his homework to validate his plan. He sees an opportunity for success and he’s pursuing it. I have every intention of helping him where I can, too. Heck, I might even join the darned club. I could always use a few new business contacts, and it wouldn’t hurt to bring a few new potential customers out to the field on a regular basis.
All this begs the question — if an outsider can see the potential of GA even given the unavoidable challenges that come with it, why don’t more of us see it too?
That’s an interesting topic. Maybe I will ask the new club’s members what they think of the idea that GA might be sick or dying when they come out to the airport for breakfast, a flight, a relaxing afternoon in the shade of the porch, and a good conversation. I’ll be interested in their responses.