I belong to a flying club, Six 4 A Six, based at Fort Worth Meacham Airport. Where did that name come from? The club was formed when six guys got together to buy an airplane, a Cherokee Six. Get it? Six guys for a Cherokee Six. Six 4 a Six.
I was not in the club at the beginning. In fact, I don’t think any of the current club members were around then. We have 11 members now and two airplanes. The Cherokee Six is still part of the club, and we also have a Cessna Cardinal RG. Eleven people for two airplanes might sound like over-crowding, but it is actually not too bad at all. I rarely have trouble reserving a plane when I want it, and if I really, really want it I have always been able to negotiate to get it. (By negotiate, I mean just asking the person with the reservation if they would mind if I took the plane.)
Why belong to a flying club? (First, why be a pilot? I won’t get into that now. We will take it as a given you already are or want to be a pilot.) Well, what are the alternatives? The main alternatives are: rent, own your own plane, and fly nothing.
In our club we pay monthly dues that are intended to cover fixed costs like hangar rental, insurance, GPS database updates, and calendar based maintenance (i.e. annual inspections). We also pay an hourly fee when we fly the planes. The hourly fee is considerably less than what you would pay to rent a comparable airplane. As long as you fly 4-5 hours per month, you come out ahead financially compared to renting. (Yes, that’s a pseudo-economic argument being used as an excuse to fly more.)
Compared to renting, being in a club lets you fly a nice, more well equipped plane and the club is set up to handle the typical cross country trip better than renting. The club planes are set up for flying IFR cross country trips, while many rentals are just made for VFR day trips close to home. With the club there is no minimum number of hours you get charged each day you have the plane on a trip. With rentals, they will charge a minimum number of hours for each day you have the plane.
Also, and this could be a positive or negative depending on your temperament, you are much more involved in the maintenance of a club plane than a rental. In our club, members do just about all the maintenance that non-mechanic pilots are allowed to do. Mainly that means oil changes, but you also get to be involved in maintenance decisions when a mechanic is doing the work. (For instance, our prop was found to need new blades during annual inspection. Do we get it overhauled, buy new blades, or buy a new prop?) Working through those decisions with other club members gives you experience in owning a plane that is much better than trying to go it alone as a newbie.
And that is where club membership is better than owning your own plane outright. You can share those maintenance decisions and costs with other people. If you have the right group of people, that makes the decisions and financial pain easier to bear. If you have the wrong group of people, you will have a nightmare. Luckily, we have a good group of people in our club that share pretty similar objectives. Same thing applies to upgrading the airplanes. As long as club members share a similar philosophy there, you will get along. If some club members want every latest gadget and others want to minimize cost, they are better off owning their own planes.
And compared to the last alternative, just not flying? Well, that is just silly.