The New Type Club — An Outline For The Future Of Personal Aviation

Type clubs are organizations for owners, pilots and enthusiasts of specific makes and models of airplanes — today, they have the ability to be much more. As airplanes age, airplane ownership changes, and the operating environment of personal aviation faces dramatic changes, type clubs can make a significant contribution. To do this, type clubs may need to rethink their outlook and reason for being. Small or large, a renewed emphasis on support and member service will make type club membership even more valuable and desirable (and therefore, more economically viable as an organization) as well.

Rising To The Challenge
The factors of airplane age, ownership, and operating environment, however, suggest that type club leadership should consider some or all of the following roles to ensure their future, and a future for all personal aviation. How can a type club help?

  1. Maintenance Support. When the first Cessna 172 flew, the Spirit of St. Louis wasn’t even a 30-year-old airplane. In 2002 the vast majority of our personal aircraft are approaching 30 years in service. It’s getting harder and harder to maintain the fleet, especially some of the more complex or unique types.
    • Develop and maintain a database of common mechanical problems, and their fixes. This could save owners time and thousands of dollars on troubleshooting as local mechanics climb a steep learning curve.
    • Create a member-recommended list of FBOs and specific mechanics with special expertise in their type of airplane, and specific repairs and upgrades. This would allow owners to seek out experts for scheduled maintenance and upgrades. It could also help a pilot choose between airports serving a common region, and fields for intermediate stops — given the choice, he or she could pick the airport and FBO with specialized tools and skills for the airplane type, just in case they’re needed.
    • Build a “one-stop-shopping” web site to access parts manuals, inspection checklists, Service Difficulty Reports, Service Bulletins, and Airworthiness Directives relating to the type and common aftermarket items. With this, it would be easy to conduct thorough and complete pre-purchase and annual inspection checks.
  2. Safety and Training. As the current pilot population ages, a new generation of owners is carrying on the type club legacy. These new pilots don’t have the experience of prior owners—they need the benefit of the institutionalized memory of those who came before. Type clubs can:
    • Create and distribute a syllabus for initial pilot checkout, and recurrent training. No one knows better than the type club what tricks and gotchas apply to their particular brand of airplane. This knowledge is vital to accident avoidance — in effect, to the very existence of the pilots and the airplanes that give type clubs a reason for being.
    • Develop and maintain a member-recommended list of Certificated Flight Instructors (CFIs) with special expertise in their type of airplane. New owners and pilots need to find quality instruction to be safe and to “keep ‘em flying” — not just any ol’ CFI will do for a proper checkout, especially in more complex or unique designs.
    • Track and evaluate mishap and accident trends. In most cases simply knowing what most commonly causes accidents can make flying them safer, because pilots can learn techniques to avoid repeating accident history. The initial checkout and recurrent training syllabi should be modified as necessary to include avoidance techniques.
    • Make safety issues a prominent part of newsletters and fly-ins. After all, safety is about flying and maintaining airplanes.
  3. Keeping Costs Down. Airplanes are expensive; it’s merely a matter of the degree. Type clubs can help make ownership a little more affordable by:
    • Negotiating parts prices. Clubs could work with manufacturers and suppliers to keep parts prices as low as possible while ensuring the providers can still make a profit.
    • Working with insurance companies. Type clubs having good membership bases with a good attitude toward maintenance and training often can get negotiated “club rates” with an insurance provider.
    • Loaning or renting specialty equipment. There’s usually some rare type of widget or thingabobby needed to do something on an airplane, that you only need once a year or sometimes once a decade. Type clubs could acquire and make these available on loan “at cost” or at reasonable rental rates to their members and their mechanics.
  4. Ensure Support for the Future. Eventually all the best mechanics, instructors and gurus will retire from active participation. Type clubs today ought to plan for their members tomorrow by:
    • Recruiting top mechanics. It’s harder and harder to find technicians to maintain older airplanes. But the interest is out there. Type clubs can remind our youth of the opportunities in aircraft maintenance. Speak in the schools. Talk to the local press. Further, type clubs could seek out promising mechanics and teach them to maintain the specific “type” of airplane. Club leaders might develop an application and evaluation process to award a scholarship and apprenticeship to a licensed mechanic who wants to add the in-type experience — and client base of the club — to his/her repertoire.
    • Recruiting instructors. Similarly, type clubs should recruit instructor pilots, and create an indoctrination and standardization program to teach certificated instructors the special techniques contained in the initial and recurrent training syllabi.
    • Recruiting members. A type club needs to recruit new members to survive. An all-inclusive program like the one this article outlines makes type club membership extremely valuable to airplane owners, pilots and mechanics — and makes membership an easy sell. Encourage current members to include a bonus one-year, paid type club membership with the sale of their airplane. It’s a minute percentage of the sale price, but it’ll give back to the type club that the selling member has probably benefited from immensely and introduces a new member to a beneficial system.
    • Coordinate with other type clubs. We’re all in this together — so help each other when you can. I’d like to see the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), or other organizations create a centralized “type club desk.” The idea is that pilots, owners, mechanics and enthusiasts would have a central location to learn about type clubs and the services they provide. The clubs themselves could get help in planning activities or coordinating programs with other organizations.
    • Make it fun. Don’t abandon the social aspects, and the wonder that attracts most members to type clubs in the first place. Make type club participation fun as well as rewarding to current and future members.

Membership in type clubs with programs like these takes hands-on administration and won’t come cheap. But even a high-end membership probably costs less per year than a single tankfull of fuel for the airplane, and could obviously return on the investment many times over.

Breaking Tradition
Type clubs often begin as informal social groups uniting people who share ‘brand loyalty.’ Some of the more famous type clubs include the Cessna Pilots Association, the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association, and the American Bonanza Society.

Historically these groups:

  • Get together in small groups at informal fly-ins;
  • Publish a newsletter, sometimes regularly;
  • Run ads for products and services aimed at owners of their type of airplane; and
  • Have a few members with mechanical and piloting expertise in that make and model, which you might be able to contact if you need help.

That’s great, but maybe it’s time to have a look at how things could be and ask ‘Why not?’

BOTTOM LINE: Many type clubs do most of these things already. Many do not. To the best of my knowledge none currently does them all. Type clubs are an untapped resource that can do much to ensure the continuation of personal aviation.