Northeastern Manitoulin Flying Club plots flight plan

A Cessna 150 is pictured here. This type of aircraft may be purchased for use of the club.

MANITOULIN EAST – The lobby of Manitoulin East Municipal Airport was filled to capacity as interested parties settled in on Wednesday, October 20 to learn more about plans to start a flying club in eastern Manitoulin. Buoyed by the success of the flying club based out of the Gore Bay Airport, organizer Andy Atchison has set the props in motion to establish a club on the eastern end of the Island.

Those in attendance for the meeting heard presentations from Mr. Atchison, the interim manager at the airport, Wade Cook, a Manitoulin Transport pilot who was instrumental in setting up the Gore Bay club, and Dr. Roy Jeffery, who is the Island’s aviation medical examiner and a pilot in his own right.

Airport committee chair Dave Ham, mayor of Assiginack and a founding member of the airport, welcomed those in attendance in his capacity as mayor. “I take great pride in this facility,” he said, noting the airport was established as a joint venture between the eastern municipalities in 1988. Mayor Ham has been a pilot for 54 years. “It’s great to see the interest here tonight,” he said. “I think it’s wonderful and I am happy to get the Manitoulin into flying.”

“This meeting was to judge the interest out on this side of the Island,” shared Mr. Atchison. “The Gore Bay club is very successful, I am a part of that club, but it is in Gore Bay and that is a long way.”

The challenge comes in travelling all the way to Gore Bay, only to discover that the weather has socked in and become less desirable for students flying. The issue becomes even more of a challenge when it comes to travelling all the way to Sudbury to take a class or in-air flight training.

Although the Gore Bay airport does have more facilities that make learning a bit easier, specifically a crosswind runway, Mr. Atchison noted that the Northeast airport is in the process of building a crosswind runway of its own. “It will be done someday,” he assured the attendees.

Mr. Atchison said that the Northeast airport is fine for daytime flying.

“We have access to a number of instructors here on the Island,” he said. “There was supposed to be one here tonight, but something came up at the last minute and they couldn’t make it. “There is another in Sudbury who has expressed an interest,” added Mr. Atchison, “provided we have enough people interested in taking the classes.”

Mr. Atchison noted that he has always been passionate about flying, being one of those kids in the playground who stopped playing to stare at a plane flying overhead. “But things happen in life,” he said. “My family didn’t have a lot when I was growing up; then, when I was older I started a career and a family, with mortgage and car payments and all the things that go along with that, so I didn’t get my pilot’s licence until the kids had moved out and the mortgage was paid off.” His passion never died. “That flame inside me never went out,” he said.

“My wife didn’t support it at first,” said Mr. Atchinson, “so I went out and bought an airplane. I was fortunate to have two exceptional partners.”

Mr. Cook noted that the Gore Bay club began in earnest in 2017, and since that time nine student pilots have gone through the program with the club and another three have also gained their licence, although they didn’t train with that club’s airplane. “So we have 12 new flyers here on Manitoulin,” he said.

Mr. Cook advised those interested in forming a club to look into forming a company. “I would suggest a not-for-profit company,” he said, adding that format tends to create less opportunity for bickering among the members.

Having a company with a plane means that up to 15 members can be listed on the company roster, greatly simplifying insurance issues.

“If you have 10 members putting in $2,000 each, you could find a plane for about $15,000, with a few thousand left over to get the plane up to snuff,” he suggested. While that scenario might work if the club got as lucky as Gore Bay did when they started out, Mr. Cook qualified his remarks by saying a more realistic number would be to have each of the 10 put in $5,000. A true four-seater would be a much better proposition as a trainer.

The club would likely need about a 50/50 ratio of students to licenced pilots for the insurance company but those things do tend to be negotiable, he said. Insurance rates for the West End club were not all that onerous, coming in at around $2,350 for the year for the entire club.

After the initial buy-in, the Gore Bay club requires a $750 a year fee and the use of the airplane by members comes in at around $50 per hour. Those club members taking the plane up also pay for the fuel, which runs to about $65 per hour at today’s prices, for an hourly cost of approximately $115 per hour—significantly less than renting a plane normally.

Gore Bay club members sign on to the plane deposit for two years, after which the club will buy out their share. Mr. Cook noted that their club has a waiting list of people willing to sign on. “When you think about it, it is a very accessible way to buy an airplane,” he noted.

There was discussion on whether the club could start with a ground school first and then move onto the purchasing of a plane and the more formal setup of the company.

Interest was high in the ground school, with Mr. Cook also noting that he has individuals at the West End also interested in a attending a ground school.

There was also discussion of setting up a two-tier membership, with one group simply being members of the club and not owners of the plane. Mr. Cook noted that the West End club also started with a two-tier structure.

It was noted that, while students could study for their exams at any age, they had to be at least 14 years old to gain a pilot’s licence.

“Theoretically, you could get your pilot’s licence before you can even get your automobile licence,” said Mr. Atchison. “Technically you could, but realistically it tends to take a bit longer.”

One of the attendees, identified as Steve, actually attained his at 15.

As the meeting drew to a close, Mr. Atchison suggested folks take the information from the meeting home with them and discuss how they would like to see a flying club set up. The next meeting is set for 7 pm, Wednesday, November 24 at the Manitoulin East Municipal Airport.