by Steve Stewart and Millie Watson
While working on our Airshow History Project, we came across some information on how the club’s ‘Flying Incentive’ used to work. It was a scheme that encouraged members to fly by subsidizing the cost. The scheme started well before the club actually owned any aircraft, and it was fairly well defined, which meant that its cost to the club could be monitored. In 1967 each qualifying member was limited to 20 flying hours, and the incentive value ranged from $2.50 to $3.50 per hour. As the table shows, this was a significant contribution to the normal cost. Aircraft could be rented from either Abbotsford Air Services or from Skyway Air Services, and it appears that Skyway also gave its own discount of 10% to club members. The net result was that a Cessna 150 could be flown for as little as $7.50 per hour. Members had to apply for the incentive at the start of each year, and in order to qualify they had to be signed off as having passed a test flight, and they were expected to have supported club activities and attended meetings (missed no more than three in previous year). The cost of the subsidy was billed directly by the provider to the club.
For 1968 the regular hourly rates at both schools appear to have increased significantly. For example the Skyway rate for a Cessna 150 went up to $12.00 from $10.00, and the AAS rate increased to $13.00 from $10.50. The club responded by increasing the value of the flying incentive to a flat rate of $6.00 per hour, which meant that the net cost to qualifying members for a Cessna 150 was just $6.00 from Skyway or $7.00 from AAS. These rates all sound incredibly low from our perspective of over 50 years later.
We can attempt to put the rates into the context of what people earned and what other things cost.
In BC the minimum wage in 1968 was just $1.25, whereas it is now $13.85.
A new 1967 Cessna 172 Skyhawk cost US$12,750. Now a new 172 is over $400k
The first Airshow full-time manager was hired in 1969 at a salary of $12,000
Statistics Canada indicates that $100 in 1968 would buy about the same as $700 will buy now.
In 2019 the AFC hourly rate for our Cessna 172 is $150 (and in this context we should note that this is significantly less than cost)
So overall, it appears that the cost of flying really has gone up much faster than other things. However, its true affordability would need a much more thorough analysis of how disposable income has changed.
We can also provide some context regarding how the finances of the club looked back then. 1967 was Canada’s centennial year, and the 1967 airshow was a step change from previous shows. In 1962 the AFC derived a net of $255.43 from the show. This rose to $900.00 in 1963 and continued to rise steadily each year. But in 1967 the net AFC income from the centennial show jumped to $6,103.35, which was equivalent to about half the price of a new Cessna Skyhawk. StatsCan would suggest a present equivalent income at over $40,000. In 1968 the club netted $4,500 from the regular airshow. After that, the airshow income to the club increased in steps that went to $7,000 in 1970, then $10,000 in 1975, $12,000 in 1980, and $17,000 in 1981. The peak number was $47,468 in 1989. From 1969 onwards the club had the entire responsibility for producing the airshow, so the money was well earned. The airshow income enabled the club to buy its first aircraft in January 1969 (a Cessna 150), and it also financed the flying incentive.
By 1972 the incentive value was being paid as a rebate to the member, who had to submit receipts. Its value was $5.00 per hour, for up to 15 hours, and it could be used for any aircraft rental, including club aircraft.
By 1974 the club owned two aircraft, and the rules for 1974 affirmed the need to be checked out on both types every year. Interestingly, there was some concern about lack of attendance at meetings, and the qualification for the flying incentive was only 50%. The January 1974 Newsletter provides some statistics for 1973.
Those of us that have been studying the club’s more recent flying hours will see some of the same patterns that still happen. In particular, 33 members flew club aircraft, half of the active pilots only made 10 flights or less, 5 pilots only flew twice, and 6 pilots only flew once.
Is any of this relevant to our present operations? Maybe. Maybe not. But it is interesting. Certainly it shows that some things change over time, but other things stay the same, and some things come back in cycles. The AFC is still an essential part of producing the airshow, even though our part is less than it was, and the income we derive from it is much less in real terms. Back then, the airshow was the main income source for the club, but now our hangar lease arrangements mean that they will probably remain our largest income source for the next 25 years.
We still subsidise the cost of flying club aircraft, but we have lost the ability to clearly track the per-hour value of that subsidy, and it is not specifically identified as being an incentive to fly. We do still fly our aircraft far less hours than we could, and flying them more would lower the per hour fixed costs. Sometime soon, after we have had some experience with the Glastar, it will be appropriate to once again look at aircraft costs, hourly rental rates, and levels of subsidy, and maybe we can once again achieve the clarity that was part of the club’s original approach.