• Flying club makes aviation affordable for plane enthusiasts

    By: JENNA SCHIFERL, The Post & Courier

    Updated:
    CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - Everything looks different from 3,000 feet in the air.

    This breathtaking view from just beneath the clouds is what captivates people like Philip Casey to pilot airplanes in their free time.

    "When you're up in the sky, you just get an unrestricted view of how gorgeous everything is," Casey said. "To have the freedom of flying ... it's almost like, you kind of see maybe a perspective of what God would see. It's crazy."

    But Casey said flying airplanes for fun can be an expensive hobby. One way to offset the cost is through flying clubs.

    These clubs date back to the early 1900s. They can operate in different ways but the general idea is to allow members to fly a shared club plane as an economical alternative to purchasing their own.

    Luckily for Lowcountry aviation enthusiasts, there's an active flying club based out of Moncks Corner - and they're accepting new members.

    As a member of the Lowcountry Flying Club, Casey, who can't afford to buy his own private plane, is able to fly six or seven times a month.

    Casey, a Ladson resident and wedding photographer, has piloted the club's small, four-seater Cessna 172 over 60 hours since the club bought the plane in March.

    The club was founded by Hank Osborne and William Finn in 2016, the club's president and vice president, respectively. They created the club for people like Casey in mind - people who are passionate about flying or learning to fly but don't have the means to buy or rent a plane on their own.

    "Owning a plane is cost-prohibitive. But when you get 10 or 12 folks together for a club like this, it creates a dynamic where you spread the overhead costs and the monthly expenses across a lot of people," Osborne said.

    The club is open to all - everyone from lifetime enthusiasts and licensed pilots to beginners with no flight experience are welcome to join.

    "We have a pretty diverse group of people. Some people haven't flown in 10 years. Some people fly all the time. Some people are busy with families, some people don't have family in the area and this is what they do for fun," said Wendy Diaz, the club's secretary.

    The club is also one of the only active flying clubs in the Lowcountry.

    "There's nothing like it in the area right now, or nothing that's been successful in a long, long time," Diaz said.

    Woody Cahall, president of the Charleston Aero Club, knows this first-hand.

    "Flying clubs are really difficult to start down here," Cahall said.

    Cahall established the club in 2017, but has been unable to find a airport to operate out of. He said he has about 120 people interested in joining, but he is still actively looking for an airport that will be a good fit.

    The Lowcountry Flying Club operates using an equity model, which means that each member owns a stake in the club's private plane. In March, each member contributed $2,500 for an equity stake to purchase the $51,000 or so club plane.

    Each member also pays around $100 in monthly dues to cover administrative fees and insurance. Actually flying the plane costs members $62/hour to cover fuel, oil and natural wear and tear.

    But the club hasn't always operated using the equity model.

    "We were very ambitious when we started," Osborne said.

    The original plan was for the club to lease a plane from an individual owner. But finding the right owner to lease from proved difficult, and the club operated regularly for about two years without a plane.

    "I got to a point where I just told the club, I said, 'Look, we've either got to change how we're doing things and operate differently so that we can get an aircraft or we need to, you know, fold this club up,'" Osborne said.

    The club voted to change to an equity model and began looking for a plane - this time to buy. That process took another few months but in March the club purchased a used plane from an owner in Jacksonville, Florida.

    Today, the plane is housed in a hanger at the Berkeley County Airport. Each member has a key to it and access to the airport property.

    Club members uses an online calendar system to reserve the plane. If they check the schedule and no one else has reserved it, they can be in the air within 30 minutes of arriving at the airport, Osborne said.

    Diaz said she's been flying since she was born. Her father was a pilot and would fly air tours over Niagara Falls, so she was always close to an airport growing up. She started taking lessons in 2011 and received her pilot's license in July.

    Diaz wears the same 10-year-old pair of gray, low-top Chuck Taylor Converse with purple laces every time she flies. They were the shoes she took her first lesson in and the shoes she wore the day she got her license. They're the closest thing she can get to flying in bare feet, she said.

    When she's in the air, the feeling is unparalleled, Diaz said.

    "My mother bought me a shirt with a great quote on it a long time ago. ... It said 'Because I fly, I envy no man on earth.' I just though that was the best way to describe flying. Because when you're up there, you don't. This is the best place I could be, anywhere," she said. "And some people might think its on a motorcycle or a boat or something, but I think it's up in an airplane, and that's why I don't envy anybody because I know I can do this."

    For Diaz and other members, the club has become more than just an economical way to fly airplanes. It's a social place to share ideas, seek advice and socialize with other aviation enthusiasts.

    In addition to the club's monthly meetings, the club has also hosted barbecues at the airport. Every once and a while, they'll meet on a Saturday to wash the plane.

    Casey, who is also the club's maintenance officer, said one of his favorite parts of the club is its community aspect.

    "It's a really safe place to just come and talk about things that maybe need some help with, or maybe some things that you're just unsure of," Casey said. "It's just great to have a platform, and a community to be able to do that stuff with."

    There are 10 active members in the club, Osborne said, and the organization can accommodate 12 people per airplane. Osborne said he's already been in touch with at least 13 people interested in joining the club, meaning the Lowcountry Flying Club will likely expand in the future.

    Osborne hopes the club will purchase another plane in the near future.

    He wants to become a certified flight instructor, so he can help other people get their license.

    In the meantime, he and the other club members will carry on as usual and continue to seek the sky.

    ___

    Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com

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