Pilots Group Gets More Flying Clubs Aloft

The Experimental Aircraft Association is providing seed funding to clubs as a way to boost membership and chapter engagement.

The Experimental Aircraft Association knows that small-aircraft pilots—or aspiring ones—can sometimes use a little encouragement to visit their local airstrip. To help with that, EAA has been testing a program to encourage its members to launch local flying clubs.

According to EAA Chapter Field Representative David Leiting Jr., the new program was motivated by an interest in having its approximately 900 chapters more engaged in building up their local communities. An effort four years ago to have the chapters themselves operate flying clubs didn’t work out, for logistical and legal reasons. But during that process EAA had developed some materials around launching a successful flying club. Rather than let those materials gather dust, EAA recently decided to see if it could build a new model around them.

“We were still receiving questions from a lot of our members saying, ‘Hey, we want to [launch a club], how can we go about doing this?” Leiting said. “So, a year and a half ago, we put it in the strategic plan that we’re going to look at how can we create a local portal for participation, not only for members but prospective members, where they look at the local airport and the EAA chapter there as the place where they can go gather as a group of enthusiasts, builders, pilots, and learn from one another.”

EAA’s program offers funding for clubs that support EAA’s mission of growing participation in aviation.

Under the new program, EAA is providing those interested with resources on how to launch a flying club, from basic first steps to more sophisticated guidance on establishing a club as a nonprofit. EAA has also created a grant program to provide financial assistance to clubs that are looking to clear one last hurdle to getting established, such as purchasing or repairing a small plane for club use. EAA plans to fund the program through a combination of donations and sales of donated aircraft.

In the application process, EAA will be looking at not just how the club will operate locally but also how it will engage with EAA’s own activities, such as its Young Eagles youth program. “We’re looking for a club that really supports EAA’s mission of growing participation in aviation,” Leiting said. “Clubs that are going to actively participate in the Young Eagles program, that are going to go out and partake in the local chapter’s rally by giving flights and volunteering.”

To that end, the program serves a member recruitment and engagement initiative, and that has looked promising for EAA thus far. Last year, it tested out the program with a goal of launching three clubs and ended up launching four, Leiting said, and this year it’s on track to launch 10 more.

“We’re starting small, but we’re hoping that it’s something that can scale up very quickly,” Leiting said. “Us as an organization and our members obviously believe that the stronger a local aviation community is the better all of aviation is. That means having a good chapter and a good flying club.”

(KvitaJan/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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