Outline History of the AFC – the latest instalment

By Steve Stewart

This instalment of the club’s history covers the period from mid-2004 to the end of 2008. The reason for starting in June 2004 is simply that it marks the start of our continuous electronic record of minutes from board meetings, general meetings and annual general meetings. The minutes and newsletters are all still available on the club website, which has developed a lot over the years, but which was originally created by Mark Thibault in 2004, and which he has maintained ever since. Mark provided a large pdf file of all those minutes from June 2004 through to December 2020. There are 2,721 pages in total, covering 16 ½ years. This instalment is for 4 ½ of those years. It is the first to deal with relatively recent events, which can be both a help and a hindrance to someone seeking to write a relatively short, yet complete and unbiased account. The amount of material available is vastly increased from previous instalments, and many of us remember details and nuances. What to include and what leave out, and how to avoid personal bias are questions that have no absolute answers. This is only an outline history; for detail you will have consult the sources directly. You might also choose to add you own account of certain episodes or issues. Pictures too, can be added later, by someone else. 

Two issues characterize this period. The first was the expulsion and eventual return of a member. The second was the club’s relationship with the airport over it master plan, lease rates, and take-over of the hangars. These two issues played out against a background of the regular activities of flyouts, socials, aircraft, committee work etc, and also with an underlying problem of month-to-month financial practice, without assurance of adequate income.

A member had been expelled from the club in 2003, over accusations of removing or consuming beer from the bar without paying for it. He denied this, and there was widespread discontent with the way the board expelled him without giving members any details of their reasons. Monty Shore led the group that considered his expulsion unconstitutional. There were many in camera discussions at the board and at the general meetings. He maintained that he had been targeted because of personality conflicts with Bob Robertson, who was President at the time of the expulsion. The debate was often heated. Throughout 2004 and into 2005, the board(s) would not relent, and his applications to rejoin were repeatedly rejected. Eventually, the board allowed the member back in, but they insisted that he pay the full initiation fee again, as though he was a first-time new member. Again, he objected.  President Bob Fatkin, who had not been around at the time of the expulsion, and was universally considered unbiased,  put in a lot of work behind the scenes, and finally, the member agreed to pay the full initiation fee, but under protest, and the whole affair was declared finished in mid-2006. It had raised a number of issues regarding the powers of the board, disciplinary procedures, the need for a code of conduct, and the need to review the bylaws.

Work on these issues had started long before the affair was over. Daffydd Hermann was tasked with drafting a disciplinary process in 2005, and Heather Hicks worked on creating a Code of Conduct through 2004.  Neither came to fruition, despite the sterling work contributed by Daffydd, Heather and others; falling victim to the immediate concerns of the ongoing situation. The bylaws were studied intensively by a series of Presidents and others, and in January 2008 Vice President Steve Stewart launched a full review as chair of a committee that welcomed participation from all members. After many constructive meetings, a completely revised set of bylaws was agreed by the committee and then went for legal review by Brian Loughlin. They were adopted unanimously at an extraordinary general meeting in January 2009, and then filed with Victoria.

Among other things, the new bylaws modified the membership grades. There were no changes for regular members and associate members.  The existing Honorary Life Members (except Prince Philip) were renamed as Life Members, in recognition that they had earned their status. A new grade of Honorary Member was created. This title had been used previously for airshow volunteers, and in a moment of inspiration during the 40th anniversary celebrations in 2001, President Steve Kulczycky had bestowed it on the Finance Minister Gary Collins. It appears that Collins had once applied to join the club, but was refused. At that time, he was a flight instructor. His new honorary title avoided embarrassment all around. It was an entirely honorary title without any rights. The bylaws enable the board to create Honorary Members for entirely ad hoc or pragmatic reasons, and for whatever term it decides. At this time Prince Philip’s status was changed from Honorary Life Member to Honorary Member for life. He had been unaware of his membership in the club, but happily accepted his new status.  

Although not part of the bylaws, a process was drafted by Bob Robertson and developed by the committee, for how to appoint Life Members in future. The intention was to avoid the type of embarrassment that had happened in 2007 when Tom Zurowski was nominated for HLM by Monty Shore from the floor at the February general meeting. Tom was present at the time. The motion was quite properly tabled, pending proper process.  Some time later, when there were two HLM vacancies, Larry Runnalls and Tom Zurowski were nominated, with the intention that members would vote on the motion at the AGM. Again, the motion was tabled.

In this period the club had lost four of its Honorary Life Members: Herb Hough in 2005; Frank Hubbard in 2006; and Bob Velvarsky and Franz Stigler in 2008. We also lost long-time member Hart Long in 2004, Past-President Sam Stephens in 2006, and long-time former member Wally Horne in 2008. All were from natural causes except the loss of Herb Hough. In August 2005 Herb and a passenger, in his Wagabond, went missing on a flight from Vavenby (north of Kamloops) to Abbotsford, without having filed a flight plan. The search covered a wide area and was finally called off in September without a result. Many members had been involved. Eventually, in early October the aircraft was found in the North Thompson River where it had crashed just after take off. Both Herb and his passenger had been killed.

Before that, another flying incident had happened in July 2005, but fortunately without a tragic ending. A member, flying ZHQ with passengers, had got stuck above cloud with fuel running low. He eventually found a gap and descended, but with his engine about to stop at any moment, he landed in a small field and finally stopped when he reached a wire fence. Deciding that any damage was superficial, He obtained fuel from somewhere, and after some further complications, flew back to CYXX. His decisions were called into question, and were the subject of a disciplinary enquiry. He paid for the damage that wasn’t covered by insurance, and undertook to no longer fly club aircraft. Because the engine and propellor had already stopped before reaching the fence, there was no need to tear down the engine. This had not been the case some months earlier, in May, when a member had landed on Pender Island and taxied through long grass – long enough to drag on the propellor and slow the engine. This was considered a prop strike by Lycoming, and the engine had to be torn down and the crankshaft inspected.  It seemed that ZHQ was forever undergoing expensive engine work. In 2008 it developed a crack in the crankcase, which put it off-line for quite some time.  And at the same time three cracked cylinders had to be replaced in HXT. 

Other, more predictable aircraft issues included the approaching need to rebuild IUK’s engine, the need for 406 MHz ELTs, a desire to install GPS in IUK, and the need to paint IUK.  As well, IUK had a fuel burn rate problem unless the mixture control was pulled most of the way back.  The problem was that at take off, landing, in climb, and at low altitudes, normal practice is to run full-rich, and at full-rich IUK was burning up to 14 gph.  Its fuel burn only came down to a reasonable level with significant use of the mixture control. This didn’t make it run lean. It just stopped it running excessively rich.  The problem was not solved until IUK was completely refurbished in 2012.

The club aircraft were the source of two other interrelated concerns.  One was their declining hours of use each year, and the other was the hourly rental rates. The cost of flying has always been high, and members were simply flying less than previously. But this meant the fixed costs were spread over less flying hours, and the result was a need to increase hourly rates. As the rates increased, the hours flown decreased further. The club needed more members, to increase the hours flown, and thus hold down the hourly rates. But not all members were happy with the prospect of increased member numbers, who would compete for aircraft bookings, and possibly join the club just because they wanted to fly!

The airport had been owned by the City of Abbotsford since 1997, and they were keen to create a master plan for how it should develop as a revenue source for the City. They had purchased it for just $10. Their plan had huge impact on the club and other tenants. It called for a new terminal building in the infield and re-designation of the appropriate land use in most parts of the airport. The whole GA compound, containing our hangar building, the two Jake Friessen buildings, and the three Harry Froese buildings, plus our clubhouse, were in the wrong place. That whole area was needed for some unspecified high-value development that would emerge in time. This made leases impossible to renew. The previous Transport Canada practice was to renew leases almost automatically, on 10 year terms, but now the airport was only granting extensions, one year at a time. The crunch came in 2007. Someone at the City had spotted an opportunity to terminate low paying leases and to turn them into a direct rental operation – they had realized that the existing leases included vesting clauses on expiry. This meant they could acquire buildings from former leaseholders at no cost; by not renewing leases they kept the land available for those imagined dream developments; and in the meantime they could make much more money from renting. When the club’s leases expired in May 2007, they simply took over ownership of the buildings, and then offered to rent them back to us at massively increased cost, on a month by month basis, and with the expectation that GA would have to move somewhere else at just 90 days notice.

This put the club in a horrible situation.  Finances were already weak and there was no ability to pay the rents demanded. There was no security of tenure, and the club was faced with the prospect of being moved out on very short notice. There was no money to undertake new development elsewhere on the airport. It also meant that the club needed to buy out the members who had invested in the hangars’ construction. Jonathon Dugdale and Steve Stewart met with the airport numerous times, seeking for a solution. The eventual agreement between the club and the airport saw a much lower $/sqft rental rate than had been asked for originally, and an absolute minimization of how many square feet were rented. For the hangar building — it meant we only rented the building itself, with the airport retaining all responsibility for the taxiways and tie-downs. For the clubhouse, we rented its actual footprint plus a one metre strip around the perimeter and from the front door to the road. Then there were the hangar investors to deal with. They had each put in $12,000 towards initial construction cost, and this gave them a hangar, which they ‘owned’.  Over time, if they moved away or no longer needed their hangar, the club found funds to acquire the hangar for the initial contribution plus a CPI adjustment. The club had quite recently paid out for three hangars in 2005 and one in 2006.  And there were still nine hangar investors remaining to be paid, for a total cost of around $135k. In principle there were funds to cover these costs, but they were tied up in two bonds; one with the Royal Bank for $48k would mature in 2008, and the other was a Bell Canada bond for about $140k maturing in 2010. The smaller bond would provide a welcome injection of cash but was not enough to pay off the investors. The Bell Canada bond had to be sold, but complications meant that this could not happen until July of 2009. Then the investors were paid off. Their patience had helped prevent insolvency.  The club had already changed their status from ‘owners’ to ‘renters’ effective from May 2007. Some were not happy with the new arrangement, but all eventually accepted the changes.  Tom Grozier had taken over as Treasurer by this time, and he put huge time and effort into the new arrangements, and managing cash flow.

All the hangar rents were increased in January 2008 to a level closer to market rates. However, club members received a discount. The 90 day cancellation clause remained, and efforts were made to find a way to relocate the hangars and clubhouse when necessary. In the meantime, although we no longer owned them, the hangars were now a dependable revenue stream, so long as the 90 day notice held off.

One effect of the uncertainty pre 2007 and the 90 day clause afterwards, was a reluctance to invest money into building repairs and maintenance. Even so, the Butch Merrick store room was completely renovated in 2005, the flight room was significantly improved, the clubhouse exterior was painted by Dean Lundstrom in 2007 and the clubhouse roof was redone in 2006. Paying for the roof required a special assessment of $30 per member. It is not clear why the storeroom had come to be considered the Butch Merrick room. In 1978, soon after he died, the meeting room had been named in his honour. Perhaps that had been forgotten in the intervening years, because, as well as putting Butch’s name on a new name plate on the storeroom door, it was decided to also name the meeting room for Gordon Cockereil, the flight room for John McGowan, and another room for Lloyd Weeks. Or maybe there is another explanation.

The club’s finances had been a concern for some time. Since the year-of-no-airshow (1998) the club’s revenue from the show was much reduced, and much less certain. It came from the campground, from film sales and from the Broken Prop. During the year, various other activities such as an annual auction and garage sale also brought in revenue, as did some social events such as Wings and Wheels. And, of course, there were the membership dues, initiation fees, bar income, aircraft rental income, and some income from hangars. Airshow film sales had previously been very profitable, with the club netting thousands of dollars from each airshow, but digital cameras killed that business. In 2004 film sales revenue to the club was only  $500 and they were discontinued from 2005. The Broken Prop was hugely popular, but it consumed vast amounts of volunteer effort. And it had come to depend on the able leadership of Kathryn Carpenter.  After she left the club there was change of direction for 2007. Volunteers who had previously worked at the Broken Prop were re-deployed to other airshow areas for which the club was responsible – fly-in aircraft, static display, and campground; and a contractor was brought in to run the Broken Prop. The service to campers and volunteers was preserved, but the income to the club all but disappeared. 

Before 1998, there had been three major income streams: aircraft rentals, membership dues, and airshow income. But aircraft rental income was lower than operating costs (as it always has been), and airshow income was now reduced and uncertain. The membership dues continued pay for the clubhouse and its associated expenses (as has been the case from 1968 to the present day). The other sources of income were not as reliable as the airshow income had been previously — even though they could generate significant revenue, such as the 2004 auction which raised $8,679.  Most other events only raised amounts of hundreds of dollars, and they might sometimes lose money.  The club needed more revenue: to make up the shortfall from aircraft operations, to pay increasing lease rates, and to periodically buy out hangar investors as their hangars became available.  The need for a strategic plan was clear, and the first plan had been put together in early 2004. It contained a wealth of good objectives, but it could not adequately address the financial issues, and it could not foresee the future actions of the City with regard to the club’s leases. There were periodic increases in both annual membership dues and aircraft hourly rates. Another strategic plan was developed in 2007, by which time the intentions of the City were clear. The new plan recognized the need to review the constitution and bylaws, the uncertainty regarding the hangars and the clubhouse, the need for more reliable revenue, and the need to review and improve all financial practices.  In 2008 the hangars had already started to contribute more significantly to club revenues, and Tom Grozier undertook a complete update of financial practices. He had inherited a system that relied on diligent application by the Treasurer and a group of other members, but which was no longer adequate. Annual reports and tax returns had not been filed, some members’ accounts had been in arrears for a long time, a number of accounts were disputed, and some accounts were obviously no longer collectable. He brought in a professional bookkeeper to keep track of everything, and for the first two years he paid her bills from his own pocket. 

During this period there were flyouts, socials, parties, Young Eagles flights, Wing and Wheels, and all the usual activities of the club. The auctions and garage sales had been a great source of revenue, but they did not continue after Carol Griffith stepped down from organizing them. By 2004 the club’s Young Eagles flights had flown over 500 kids, but 2005 was the final year of AFC participation. In September 2006 the club flew 24 boy scouts, and their leaders, instead. 

The major social event of 2006 was the 60th anniversary of John Spronk’s first solo flight. It had been in a Tiger Moth, and in recognition of this, the Museum of Flight in Langley flew him to the event in their Tiger Moth.  Franz Stigler’s 92nd birthday was celebrated in 2007; followed by Bill Gibson’s 80th birthday and Monty Shore’s 90th birthday in 2008. In 2005 the club hosted a very successful reunion for former members of 5OTU, who had been based at RCAF Abbotsford during the war. Also, there were corn-roasts and turkey dinners and a pork roast at the club. In the early part of this period Dean Lundstrom organized many popular dinners for members at various local restaurants, and in later years Rick Duerkson began to steadily build the TGIFs into a well attended, regular event. Many flyouts were planned, and many were cancelled for weather. But some major flyouts did happen, involving multiple planes and large groups of members, to places like Alert Bay, Victoria, Nanaimo, and Sproat Lake. Some members went as far as Oshkosh and Reno. Many went to Chilliwack for breakfast and pie.

Wings and Wheels started in 1998, as something to do instead of an airshow. It was very popular, attracting dozens of aircraft and scores of cars. It usually made money, if the weather complied, and the auction and garage sale could be held on the same day. It relied on bringing aircraft through the airside perimeter fence, and the club had modified the fence so that it could be laid flat on the ground, thus allowing aircraft to taxy over it.  But this left the fence ‘floppy’, because the posts were cut at ground level and only the tensioned wire held it up.  After taking over the hangar compound, the airport did some improvements to drainage, the gates, and the fence. They moved the north fence about 10 feet away from the ex-Friessen buildings as a security measure – and while doing so they restored its structural integrity, so that it could no longer lie flat. This ended Wings and Wheels, until, under new airport administration some years later, when they installed the present 40 foot wide gate. 

A whole list of other organisations continued to use the clubhouse. CASARA and the RAA had their own keys and held regular meetings, as did the Lions from 2008. The Abbotsford Police held ad hoc briefings there. Westjet, the police and others had Christmas parties. The Aerobatics club was welcomed each year at the time of their competitions. The Vintage Car Club held reunions. A new flight school, 3 Lines Aviation, ran a ground school in the meeting room in 2006, and its CFI, Justin Miller became a member. Many members also booked the clubhouse for their own private functions.

Throughout, the regular meetings (and some irregular) continued. In 2004 Ron Shore talked about his trip on Concorde. In 2005 Frank Hubbard gave a fascinating talk about his professional experiences  as an Aeronautical Engineer. In 2005 Keith Wade spoke about flying in Papua New Guinea. In 2005 Michael Desmazes talked about the wartime history of the airport. In 2006 Clark Closkey described events from his year in Australia. In 2008 Kaitlyn Herbst of Global TV told us about her experiences in the Global traffic helicopter. Also in 2008, we heard about the Mosquito restoration happening at YVR, Adrian Cooper visited to talk about the Reno air races, George Miller talked about his career, and Taylor Morrison told us about his trip to Oshkosh as a new pilot in ZHQ.


They were interesting times.


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