Chapters and Airports
What Is The Right Role For A Chapter?
Have you ever heard someone tell you about something they discovered that on the surface it soundly like the “deal of the century” but later on when all the facts became clear it turned out the be the old story, “if it sounds to good to be true, it is”! We’ve all heard this at some point in time, and maybe we were the people who thought we found that “ deal of the century”. Regardless, this is a good starting point for a discussion about Chapters, airports, and the right role for Chapters when it comes to owning or operating an airport. Sure, if someone came to your Chapter and offered the Chapter an airport, it might sound like a fantastic opportunity on the surface. However, as we will discuss here, there are many responsibilities that don’t come to the surface immediately and with responsibilities comes other baggage your Chapter may not be prepared to carry.
This has been said before, however it is important in accordance with this discussion, to repeat what Chapters do best, and then we will touch on some of the things Chapters are not suited to handle.
Chapters are made up of EAA Members who are like-minded enthusiastic recreational aviation people. Chapters have flyers, builders, enthusiasts, restorers, and people who just like to have fun with other people who enjoy aviation. Chapters have a great amount of support from EAA Staff, both within the Chapter Office as well as other offices at EAA Headquarters. Chapters have a super insurance program that allows them to do many things, such as fly-ins, fly-outs, Young Eagles rallies, meetings and monthly get togethers (social activities), builders groups, work parties, ground schools, etc. Chapters are great at community outreach, doing things like school tours at the airport and helping teachers with aviation topics in the classroom. Chapters also do many other things to improve their communities such as “adopt-a-highway” (near the airport) and airport clean-up work parties. The bottom line is Chapters are very good at the things Chapters have been doing ever since the first Chapter was formed nearly 50 years ago.
On the other side of the coin, there are some things Chapters aren’t so good at, things that Chapters should not try to do. These things Chapters should not do include; airport management, airpark management (fly-in community), airport maintenance (maintaining runways, runway lighting, taxiways and taxiway lighting), aircraft maintenance (other than helping Chapter Members with their projects), aircraft fueling, flight schools, aircraft or aircraft parts sales.
Why can’t Chapters do these things? There are two extremely good reason why Chapters are not suited for these business activities. First, these are business activities and to properly conduct any business activities you must have a business structure in place and be prepared to execute various business functions. These business functions include; finance (capital management), business plan, organizational structure and employees (human resources), risk management (insurance), legal counsel (contracts, leases, agreements), regulatory issues (local, state, federal licenses and permits), environmental regulations, etc. Second, none of the business activities or the business structures we just mentioned fits under a volunteer based “non-profit” corporation. This isn’t to say Chapters are unsophisticated on incapable of doing things in a businesslike manner, however we do need to face the honest truth of our make-up, that we are a volunteer based organization and Chapters in particular are made up of volunteers. On one hand while volunteers are tremendously dedicated and hard working people who often achieve more than any “for profit” business might, there are still inherent limitations. Any Chapter seeking to do these things would have to switch over to a “for-profit” corporation, which also means we can add tax responsibilities to the list of business functions as well. Chapters must be a “non-profit” corporation so this would mean dropping your Chapter Charter and your Chapter’s affiliation with EAA. This is all a little scary isn’t it, when you start to consider all the things a Chapter would have to do.
Let’s face it, Chapters are great at the things Chapters are suited to do as a group of volunteers who enjoy recreational aviation. Chapters have successfully built clubhouses and hangars on their local airport. In some cases Chapters have built facilities large enough to rent hangar space to Chapter Members (with airport management approval and appropriate insurance coverage). In fact one Chapter in Texas owns eight t-hangar and they rent 6 of the t-hangar to Chapter Members which generate enough income to cover the ownership costs. This is a good example of how far a Chapter can successfully go, however Chapter should not and cannot become involved in the business activities that exceed their abilities, their insurance program, which EAA has developed for Chapters, or make the chapter a “for profit” corporation.
So, what have we said? Chapters are groups of EAA Members that can do many things very good as long as they do what they are designed to do. Chapter should not, (cannot) try to become an aviation business for several very good reasons. If your Chapter is offered an opportunity get involved in an aviation business, STOP, go back to the paragraphs above and consider the responsibilities and the changes that will occur with in your Chapter. Also, contact the Chapter Office, we will help sort through whatever it is your Chapter is being offered. Chapters can do several things that do work such as owning a clubhouse, hangar, and in the right scenario a group of hangars. But, at the same time there are several things Chapters cannot do and this is because these things don’t fit the structure and resources of a Chapter. If your Chapter is in doubt, contact the Chapter Office!