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Owning an aircraft is undoubtedly convenient — and not to mention just plain fun — but the cost of ownership can make it difficult for some owners to fly as often as they’d like. On the flip side, it’s just as costly to keep an aircraft parked; there’s nothing fun about a “hangar queen.” But what if owners could share the costs of their aircraft with other pilots, all while enabling those pilots to fly closer to home for less?
This is exactly what Mathew Fernandez, a licensed private pilot and aircraft owner, thought roughly two years ago. Being an avid user of both Airbnb and Turo — a carsharing company — Fernandez was keen to try the same sharing model with his aircraft.
“I started looking for a solution to list my airplane, and there was nothing,” he explained. “So I resorted to [listing my aircraft on] Kijiji [Canada], and within 48 hours I had 70 replies. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, there are so many people who want to fly, but I can only put five people on insurance.’ Then I thought, ‘How am I going to track all of this, how am I going to schedule this?’”
This was the early beginning of Flight Club, a web app that allows owners to list and manage their aircraft, and pilots to book such aircraft on an hourly basis. Flight Club has developed aircraft scheduling, maintenance, document tracking, and payment processing features.
Before getting carried away, Fernandez decided to check the legality of this venture, so a meeting was scheduled with YYZlaw in Toronto. Little did Fernandez know, he was going to get a lot more than just legal advice — there, he connected with his co-founder, Ehsan Monfared, an aviation lawyer who also has his commercial pilot’s license.
“When the idea was pitched to me, I thought, ‘That’s brilliant!’” said Monfared. “How amazing would it be if I had an app on my phone and I could find a [Cessna] 172, nothing complex, and just go for a one- or two-hour flight?”
The duo are the co-founders of Flight Club, with Fernandez as the company CEO and Monfared as chief operating officer. Flight Club now has a team of 11, comprised of airline transport pilots, military officers, aviation students, and software engineers. The platform has 624 registered users, 28 aircraft listings, and has recorded a total of 561 hours flown.
Aircraft owners listing on the platform are not obligated to share their aircraft with just anyone. Pilots must first apply to fly the aircraft, provide their qualifications and flight experience, then complete a flight checkout process before being able to rent the aircraft. “We’re not going to let just anybody start booking time on airplanes,” said Monfared. Owners define the experience level, number of hours, or specific ratings that a pilot must have in order to qualify to fly their aircraft.
Flight Club takes the onus off owners by connecting them with pilots who fit their experience standards. For example, if an owner is looking for a pilot with 60 hours of pilot-in-command time and a night rating, “we start collecting pilot resumes,” said Fernandez. “Once we have a couple of pilot resumes, we go to the owner and say, ‘We have three people who meet your criteria, would you like to meet with them?’ Then the owner goes out and meets with the pilots, does a check ride, and then they authorize them to fly the airplane. . . . So the entire process is controlled by the owner.”
To simplify things further, the company is in the process of rolling out a QR code system to better automate the flight check-in and check-out processes. Basically, a pilot would scan their booking code with their phone, which would take them to the check-in process — providing information on the flight, aircraft weight and balance, and the point of departure. After the flight, the pilot would scan the same QR code to check out, and would then be billed for the amount of time spent flying.
“The goal is to move general aviation into the 21st century, get rid of all the paper, and enhance the data that we have,” said Monfared. “So an owner could be sitting at home and receive a notification that there’s a problem with their airplane . . . and they don’t have to be at the airport or looking at the journey logbook to know.”
“We want to bring the maintenance and document tracking functionalities used by commercial aviation to general aviation users,” added Fernandez.
Insurance-wise, Flight Club helps aircraft owners determine what they can do under their policy, and the types of discussions they should have with their brokers. The company’s end goal, Fernandez said, is to “come to an insurance solution where everyone is insured on the platform. So any aircraft that’s listed and any pilot who joins us would be covered under an umbrella policy.”
The company began onboarding pilots in March of 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Despite the pandemic, Flight Club is seeing activity, and has in fact seen “pilots who are employed by major airlines coming to us because they want to maintain their IFR currency,” Fernandez added.
The goal of Flight Club is to make aviation more accessible, but also to build a sense of community in the general aviation space. The app isn’t limited to the fixed-wing community, either; its rotary-wing counterparts are welcome to list on Flight Club as well.
Though the company is based primarily out of Toronto, Flight Club is open to listings from aircraft owners anywhere in the world. The only limitation is all transactions are in Canadian dollars. “Our focus is in Toronto, because that’s where the highest concentration of pilots is [in Canada],” explained Monfared. “But we have airplanes listed in Langley [B.C.], a Cessna 172 in Calgary [Alberta], and most recently a Twin Comanche in Ottawa [Ontario].
“Ultimately, we’re available to everybody.”