A Closer Look At Aero Club Como
Trip Report written by Chris Buckner – Over this years Easter holidays I was able to squeeze in a quick stop at the Lake Como Seaplane Base known as Aero Club Como. Marco Di Pilato, a member of the Board of Directors was exceptionally accommodating and informative during our visit. The day was absolutely picturesque with flights happening the entire time we were visiting and tourists and locals alike walking to-and-fro in front of the open hanger doors that overlook the stunning Lake Como.
As anyone who’s seen photos of Aero Club Como can attest, the uniqueness of this place stands out instantly upon arrival. As you arrive, driving down the main one-way lakeside road through town you suddenly see the large hanger on the left side of the road and the lake and seaplanes on the water over on your right. That is, if there isn’t a plane in the road directly in front of you being moved back and forth between the hanger and the water while all the people and cars stop and watch the operation in progress right in front of them. This is definitely one of the things that makes the club stand out.
This waterfront and central presence on Lake Como since 1930, when the hangar was first built, is just a small part of what makes this club so amazing. The one-of-a-kind club has been operating as a flight school since it’s opening in 1930 and is the only flight training seaplane operation of it’s kind in Europe. The club also proudly owns a Guinness World Record for being the Oldest Seaplane Organization in operation. Over the years, the club has added many different functions to their contribution to aviation and society as a whole organizing air races, military training and hosting over 20 seaplane organizations during WWI, serving as a “rest camp” during WWII, restoring and keeping older rare seaplanes flying, and much more. But, the one constant during all that time has been the flight school and flight training.
Looking at the training side of the things happening at Aero Club Como, we find another quite unique aspect of this operation. Not only is this the oldest seaplane training school in the world, but, the majority of their training is for an initial private pilot license in a seaplane. Many of the pilots who train here experience their first taste of flight in a seaplane and learn to fly on water before transitioning to land. This process usually takes first time pilots about a year and a half to complete, with around 6 months of theory training and then fulfilling the hours in the airplane.
The school does offer a seaplane add on rating that can usually be finished easily within a week’s time and makes for a great vacation add-on rating for anyone planning a trip to the area. The legal requirement is 8 hours of flight time, plus a 1 hour examination flight. The club offers European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) ratings and licenses, but they do have staff who have worked close with pilots who have an FAA rating to discuss options for training and certification.
The club has around 250 members from Italy, Europe and around the world, who have come to Como at some point to take a flight in one of the club’s relatively large and ever expanding fleet of seaplanes. Much of the flight training takes place in one of the club’s four Cessna 172s on floats, or in their Cessna 206, but the club also has a variety of aircraft that can be used for flights by trained members. These planes include a Cessna 305 “Birddog” which is the only “Birddog” in Europe on floats. Di Pilato says that the “Birddog” is a super fun plane to fly and is actually “easier to fly on water than land.” The club actually a second “Birddog” but unfortunately, there is only one set of floats at the current time.
There is also a 1946 Macchi MB 308, known as “Il Macchino.” Throughout their history, Aero Club Como has owned four different Macchi MB 308s and numerous pilots have attained ratings and experience on this rare plane at Lake Como. The club’s other “vintage” plane is a 1946 Republic RC-3 “Seabee”. Lake Como is one of very few places left where a pilot can still train and fly a “Seabee.” and many pilots enjoy the opportunity to train and pilot this flying boat, and many more relish the opportunity to even see and sit in one of these planes.
Aero Club Como has a fully functional workshop where mechanics are continuously working hard to both maintain and keep the current fleet of planes operating at peak capacity, as well as restore and bring other planes that the club manages to acquire back to life and back in airworthy condition. The school completes around 3,500 hours of flight time every year. About half of those hours are completed as part of flight training, one quarter as “introduction” flights, and one quarter as member flights of those who just want to enjoy the planes and area.
Aero Club Como is open year round, and contrary to what one may think, the months of October through April are the best times to fly. The club is typically open Monday through Friday and closed on the weekend due to the high amount of activity on the water, which makes take-offs and landings difficult. Though I wasn’t able to experience any of those hours myself this trip, I’m confident that it’ll happen soon. After seeing the base in operation and the surrounding area, I firmly believe that a seaplane flight on and around Lake Como is something every pilot should experience at some point in their life.