Parksville Qualicum Aero Club – A Breath Of Fresh Air

Yesterday I was in Parksville attending a wedding and had a few hours to burn in between the ceremony and reception. Despite the marginal weather I knew that the Aero Club was hosting an Airshow and even though I knew it would most likely already be over or probably cancelled I drove 20 minutes up the road to check it out or at least go walk the ramp and kick some tires. 

Sure enough when I arrived at the airport it looked like everything had already wound up and there was nobody to be seen. As I passed the flying club hangar I heard laughter and saw a handful of cars parked out front. Aa a proud member of the BC Aviation Association I would not be doing my job if I didn’t reach for a handful of BCAV business cards and dutifully see if any of the jovial folks in the club house might be interested in joining. What happened next made my day!

I walked into the very clean and well-appointed club house and was immediately greeted by a sea of yellow shirted Airshow volunteers & flying club members. I approached one gentleman named Fred and gave my little BCAV pitch and was asked to come back at a later date and address the entire membership. It wasn’t more than 5 minutes before I had a nice cold beer in hand and the flying stories & lies started flowing. It had only been a few minutes but I immediately felt that sense of camaraderie that only pilots, police and military servicemen and women know. 

It wasn’t long before I met Jim, we hit it off right away and exchanged some sharp banter about my inability as a controller to differentiate his Glasair from a Glasstar. Jim would like everyone to know that a Glasair can fly at 190kts, and requires superhuman agility to fly (insert sarcastic grin).

Jim started telling me about the club and how it is run, I thought it was such a fantastic model that it would be a disservice not to share.

The Parksville Qualicum Aero Club (PQAC) was formed in the 1950’s and like any fly flying club has faced its share of challenges over the years. Unlike many other clubs the PQAC proved to be flexible, creative and resilient and adopted a new model for the club about 10 years ago that has need very successful both financially and socially. 

The Club has 85 members and 1 airplane. One of the greatest challenges of modern flying clubs is attracting and engaging young members and keeping the “old” members happy and flexible. Additionally there is also the inherent challenge of finding a balance between flying members and non-flying members in order for the non-flying social members to not feel as if they are subsidizing the few who do fly.

The PQAC charges an annual membership fee of $100 to all members both flying and non-flying. The club has a very well kept C172 for its members however the flying membership is limited to 25 members and there is a short waiting list (supply & demand). Flying members are required to purchase a block of 12hrs dry for $1300 each year. The $1300 is non-refundable and should a member not use the entire 12hrs the balance goes into the aircraft bank. Additional hours cost the flying member ($38/hr dry). 

This formula has proven to be very popular with the club and its members and the pre-purchased block hours rarely go unused. Requiring members to pre-purchase the flight time is a great incentive to get the membership out flying because nobody wants to see that time that they have already paid for go to waste. It allows the aircraft to be self-sustaining without costing the non-flying members a dime. 

The other thing I noticed during my visit was the vast age range of the members. The PQAC has over a dozen members under the age of 25 with is a feat for any “established” club. In addition there was a healthy mix of both males and females of all ages show all interacted as a cohesive social unit sharing laughs and throwing good humoured zingers back and forth. Jim told me that one of the best things about the club is that the “young” members look up to, respect and seek the guidance of some of the more “senior” members 5 of which have over 25,000 hours of flight experience. 

The feeling that I got during my visit was that this club was a place of inclusivity of all ages with out prejudice, it is a family where everyone genuinely cares about their fellow members. Jim told me that they schedule bi monthly meetings but don’t get bogged down in the politics. The philosophy that Jim shared with me was that Clubs have to be run democratically which is why the members elect an executive council. Once the executive is in place you have to let them run the club and make the decisions on behalf of the club and it works. Instead of voting in every issue, if the membership is unhappy they are free to vote on a new executive. I personally thought that this philosophy was a breath of fresh air. Every club meeting has an educational or entertainment portion and the “meetings” over the issues are left for the executive to handle, allowing the members to enjoy the club and not the trivial politics. 

I have been to many flying clubs over the years. The Parksville Qualicum Aero Club is truly the first club that left me wanting more. I look forward to coming back for another visit and hope that all the BC Clubs can continue to grow, engage and flourish to get more people flying more places or at least get more people talking airplanes. 

Essay By: Ryan Van Haren