The tax implications of owning a corporate aircraft

 

If your business is successful and you do a lot of business travel, you may have considered buying a corporate aircraft. Of course, there are tax and non-tax implications for aircraft ownership. Let’s look at the basic tax rules.

Business travel only

In most cases, if your company buys a plane used only for business, the company can deduct its entire cost in the year that it’s placed into service. The cases in which the aircraft is ineligible for this immediate write-off are:

  • The few instances in which neither the 100% bonus depreciation rules nor the Section 179 small business expensing rules apply or
  • When the taxpayer has elected out of 100% bonus depreciation and hasn’t made the election to apply Sec. 179 expensing.

In those cases, the depreciation schedule is 20% of the cost for year 1, 32% for year 2, 19.2% for year 3, 11.52% for year 4, 11.52% for year 5 and 5.76% for year 6. Note that the bonus depreciation rate is scheduled to be phased down for property placed in service after 2022.

Interestingly, these “cost recovery” rules are more favorable than the rules for business autos. The business auto rules place annual caps on depreciation and, in the year an auto is placed in service, both depreciation and Sec. 179 expensing.

In the case of a business-travel-only aircraft, post-acquisition expenses aren’t treated differently than post-acquisition expenditures for other machinery and equipment. For example, routine maintenance and repair expenses are immediately deductible while amounts that improve or restore the aircraft must be capitalized and depreciated.

The only “catch” that distinguishes the tax treatment of an aircraft used 100% for business travel from the treatment of most other machinery and equipment is that company aircraft are one of the categories of business property that require more rigorous recordkeeping to prove the connection of uses and expenses to business purposes.

Business and personal travel

Personal travel won’t affect the depreciation results discussed above if the value of the travel is compensation income (and is reported and withheld upon as such) to a person that isn’t at least a 5% owner or a person “related” to the corporation. This means, for example, that personal travel by a non-share-holding employee won’t affect depreciation if the value of the travel is compensation to him or her and is reported and withheld upon. The depreciation results can be affected if the person for whom the value of the travel is compensation income is at least a 5% shareholder or a related person. But even in that case, the depreciation results won’t be affected if you comply with a generous “fail-safe” rule.

With one limitation, personal travel won’t affect the treatment of otherwise-deductible post-acquisition expenditures if the value of the travel is compensation income (and is reported and withheld upon). The limitation is that if the person for whom the value of the travel is to be treated as compensation income is at least a 10% owner, director, officer or a person related to the corporation, the amount of the deduction for otherwise-deductible costs allocable to the personal travel can’t exceed the travel value.

Moving forward

Other rules and limitations may apply. As you can see, even in the case of an aircraft used for business and personal travel, these rules aren’t onerous. But they do require careful recordkeeping and, when an aircraft is used for personal travel, compliance with reporting and withholding requirements. Contact us to learn more in your situation.

© 2021

 

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