Astoria Flying Club taking off

EDWARD STRATTON — The Daily Astorian Airplane mechanic and pilot Dave West pulls out a Cessna 177 Cardinal, one of the planes the Astoria Flying Club hopes to rent out to pilots.

The environment is beautiful, space is abundant and there are planes to fly, and airplane mechanic Dave West and other aviators wonder why more people aren’t taking advantage of the Astoria Regional Airport.

They and other aviators in the area are in the beginning stages of starting the Astoria Flying Club, which holds its first meeting 10 a.m. Saturday in the conference room at Lum’s Auto Center, located at 1605 S.E. Ensign Lane in Warrenton.

The club, which is forming as a nonprofit, promises to provide a place for learning how to fly and renting planes. West sees interest from U.S. Coast Guardsmen, former aviators looking to get back in the cockpit,

“You get interested in it. You start bringing other people in, you know; it starts snowballing into a bigger thing,” said West, part of a local aviation community of 25 to 30 and owner of West Aviation, his airplane mechanic business. “We’re trying to promote the airport. We want more activity going on out here. It’s a great airport.”

Allen Sprague, the primary flight instructor in the group and owner of Aviation Adventures, said the initial meeting of the club is to gauge interest and determine how much membership fees and club dues should be. The group needs a $20,000 buy-in overall by members to start up, said Sprague, which will be less when more people come to the meeting. People can still join the club at any point after the meeting, although Sprague said the cost of joining might be more per person after startup.

Those who want to fly don’t need a plane. There are plenty at the airport that owners want flown. The club has available for loans or a flight-training a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, a Cessna 177 Cardinal and a Piper PA-38-112 Tomahawk, with more coming onboard.

Flight training at Hillsboro Airport, said West, can cost $130 an hour to rent a plane, and possibly another $70 each hour for an instructor.

“Here’s the biggest difference of a club versus a flight school,” said Sprague. “In a flight school, you’re going to pay probably close to $200 an hour for that Cardinal. In the club, you’re probably going to be closer to $100 an hour. The same airplane, with the fuel and oil and everything else included, half the price.”

Pilots can rent out planes for multiple days, said Sprague, paying two- to-four hours a day minimum

Sprague said club rates for instruction will also be $30 to $35 an hour, half as much as what West said schools in Hillsboro can charge.

One of the biggest costs for the club is insurance on all three planes, costing $8,000 to $9,000 a year, with the Cessna 172 and the Tomahawk as the primary instructional planes.

“My airplane’s the one that crashed in Gearhart,” said Sprague, who’s rented Cessna was crashed by Jason Ketcheson in 2009 into a house, killing himself and four others. “So I’ve gone through the whole scenario of being a plane owner and having it go down with somebody else flying it and knowing what kind of coverage you need.”