County flying enthusiasts hope club takes off

Posted Aug. 22, 2009, at 7:20 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:43 a.m.

FRENCHVILLE, Maine — A new club is trying to get off the ground in northern Maine, literally.

Earlier this week, a handful of licensed and student private pilots met at the Northern Aroostook Regional Airport, hoping to form the area’s first fliers’ club.

“We really want people to know aviation can be accessible to anyone,” David Fernald Jr., a pilot and instructor, said. “The key is really how much money it costs per hour to run a plane.”

That cost can run pretty high — up to $15,000 a year in fixed annual operating costs for a small private plane — and membership in a club can reduce that cost significantly.

David Fernald Jr., who with his father, David Fernald Sr., operates New England Air Transport out of the Frenchville airport, says a fliers’ club would benefit both pilots and the facility.

“It would really be an asset for us to attract pilots,” Fernald Jr. said. “And it would keep an airplane here.”

The only private plane now available on a rental basis north of Bangor is housed at the Frenchville airport, but that could soon change since the four-seater Cessna is for sale.

An organized club, Fernald Sr. said, could purchase the aircraft — or any other available plane — collectively and use club dues to pay for its upkeep and operational costs.

The oldest flying club in Maine is the Bald Eagle Flying Club in Portland, which the Fernalds say is a good model to use as a pattern for a northern Maine club.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” Fernald Sr. said. “They have established bylaws and a working dues structure we could use.”

Options for joining a local flying club, Fernald Sr. said, could include members making an initial investment, stock options, dues or some combination of the three.

“It’s important to keep your minds open,” Fernald Jr. said. “There is more than one way to do this.”

While Fernald Jr. said there has been moderate interest from area pilots in a club, he indicated there is enough interest to push ahead with the notion.

“Aviation isn’t as appealing as it used to be,” he said. “People’s priorities are different [and] with the ATVs, boats and snowmobiles they have in their garages, they have the cost of a plane there.”

But the lure of the flights is still strong for some, such as pilot Phil Cyr of Van Buren, who said access to a club plane would allow him to fly throughout the year.

“I’d be very interested in buying into shares of a plane,” Cyr said. “It would be nice to have one we could use.”

Also looking for a local plane are three future pilots — Cody Anderson, 15; Blaine Cyr, 15; and Kyle Blanchette, 14.

“These boys are the future of flight,” Cyr said. “I think it’s great they are interested in this.”

Charlie Blanchette, Kyle Blanchette’s father, said it’s an interest that could pay off down the road.

“You have a private pilot’s license if you want to go into the aviation field,” the elder Blanchette said. “It puts you ahead of the game in all aspects of aviation and these days people need all the edge they can get.”

For Fernald Sr., it’s exciting to watch a new generation of fliers take wing at his airport.

“Here you have three young men who are mirroring what [my son] David did,” Fernald Sr. said. “It’s a great thing to see.”

Forming a club, the pilots all agreed, would make it easier and less expensive for all future pilots to work toward their licenses.

Fernald Sr. and some of the potential club members now plan to work some numbers and prices to determine the most cost-effective way to form and maintain a northern Maine fliers club with its own airplane.

Anyone seeking information about the club can contact Fernald Jr. at 436-2221.

“Aviation is not out of reach of anybody,” Fernald Jr. said. “There are ways we can make it happen.”