Air Transportation Excise Tax ATG – Part 1
Publication Date - April, 2008
NOTE: This guide is current through the publication date. Since changes may have occurred after the publication date that would affect the accuracy of this document, no guarantees are made concerning the technical accuracy after the publication date.
- Air Transportation of Persons
- Exemptions to the Section 4261 Tax
- Helicopter Use
- Fixed Wing Aircraft - Forestry
- Air Ambulance
- Small Aircraft on Nonestablished Lines
- Sightseeing Flights
- Affiliated Groups
- Charges for Nontransportation Services
- Exchange of Prepaid Order for Tickets
- Caretakers and Messengers Accompanying Freight
- Special Baggage Transportation Equipment
- Excess Baggage
- Circus or Show Conveyances
- Caution on Former Exceptions
- Business and Private Aircraft
- Aircraft Leases
- Management Companies and Charters
- Fractional Aircraft Ownership
- Commercial Airlines and Scheduled Flights
Introduction - Air Transportation Excise Taxes
The Internal Revenue Code (the Code) imposes a tax on amounts paid for certain transportation of persons and property by air. Before June 28, 1962, a transportation tax applied to amounts paid for transportation by rail, motor vehicle, and water, in addition to amounts paid for transportation by air. Since that date the tax has applied only to the amount paid for transportation by air. Up until 1970, there were a number of exceptions to the tax. In 1970, however, Congress enacted the Airport and Airway Revenue Act of 1970, P.L. 91-258, 1970-1 C.B. 361 (the 1970 Act), eliminating most of these exceptions. The 1970 Act, also established the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, found in section 9502 of the Code.
Congress allowed the tax to expire twice during the mid-1990s. It expired December 31, 1995, and was reinstated August 27, 1996, expired again December 31, 1996, and was reinstated March 7, 1997.
The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, P.L. 105-34 (the 1997 Act), changed the structure of the tax, effective for air transportation after September 30, 1997. The 1997 Act gradually reduced the percentage tax rate from 10% of the amount paid to its present level of 7.5%. The 1997 Act also introduced the domestic segment tax and clarified the rules for amounts paid to provide mileage awards.
The American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, P.L. 108-357 (AJCA), signed on October 22, 2004, and the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, P.L. 109-59 (SAFETEA), signed August 10, 2005, have provided additional exemptions to the tax. In addition, AJCA changed the point of taxation on aviation fuel. This field guide has been updated to reflect these changes.
The air transportation excise taxes were scheduled to be repealed as of October 1, 2007. A number of Acts have provided a continuous extension of the air transportation excise taxes. At the time this guide was written, the tax has been extended through June 30, 2008. This guide will be updated for any legislative changes which occur after June 30, 2008.
Section 4261 of the Code imposes an excise tax on amounts paid for:
- Transportation of persons by air;
- Each domestic segment;
- The use of international travel facilities; and
- The right to award free or reduced rate transportation.
Section 4271 of the Code imposes an excise tax on amounts paid for transportation of property by air.
The air transportation taxes are collected excise taxes under section 4291 of the Code. The amounts collected are deposited into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. The amounts deposited into the trust fund are primarily used to improve and maintain the nation’s airport and air traffic control systems. In addition, taxes on aviation kerosene and aviation gasoline are transferred from the Highway Trust Fund to the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. Generally, a reduced rate of excise tax is imposed on fuel consumed in the aircraft while flying commercial aviation flights. For flights in noncommercial aviation, a higher rate of excise fuel tax is imposed on the gallons of fuel consumed in the flight.
As discussed in this field guide, there are different types and rates of excise taxes imposed on air transportation. Therefore, it is important to determine what type of service is being provided by the air transporter. This determination is to be made on a flight-by-flight basis and is the basis for a number of audit issues.
Involvement in air transportation includes any entity or person flying an aircraft or supplying fuel for the aircraft. This can include, but is not limited to, the following groups:
- Scheduled commercial airlines,
- On-demand air taxi services,
- Charter airlines,
- Charter brokers,
- Fractional Aircraft Companies,
- Management Companies,
- Integrated package delivery companies,
- Travel agencies and tour brokers,
- Businesses and individuals that operate aircraft for their own use,
- Purchasers of airline tickets,
- Internet Intermediaries for air transportation, and
- Marketers of fuel that is used in aircraft.
This document serves as a field audit guide for excise and other Internal Revenue Agents. The contents of this document are not to be used or Cited as authority for setting or sustaining a technical position. This document is not an official pronouncement of the law or the position of the Service and cannot be used, Cited, or relied upon as such.
Caution should be used in applying existing regulations and revenue rulings to present fact situations. The section 4261 regulations (Facilities and Services Excise Taxes Regulations § 49.4261-1 et. seq.), for the most part have not been revised since 1963, and do not reflect the many changes in the Code since that time. Similarly, many revenue rulings contain out-of-date tax rates and do not reflect the significant changes made in the Code in 1996, 1997, and 2005.
Air Transportation of Persons
IRC § 4261 of the Code imposes two different taxes on the amount paid for domestic taxable transportation of persons by air:
- IRC § 4261(a) imposes a percentage tax on the amount paid for taxable transportation of any person (the percentage tax).
- IRC § 4261(b) imposes a segment tax on the amount paid for each domestic segment of taxable transportation (the domestic segment tax).
- IRC § 4261(e)(3) applies the percentage tax to the amount paid for the right to award frequent flyer miles.
The percentage tax and the segment tax are combined together to determine the domestic transportation of persons by air tax and are reported on Form 720, IRS No. 026. The amount reported on IRS No. 026 also includes the tax under IRC §4261(e)(3).
IRC § 4261(c) imposes the international facilities tax on the amount paid for international transportation that begins or ends in the United States, with a reduced rate for departures from Alaska or Hawaii. The international facilities tax is reported on Form 720, IRS No. 027.
The air transportation of persons taxes under section 4261 are collected taxes. The person liable for the tax, the taxpayer, is the person making the payment for the taxable transportation. The person receiving the payment, the collector, is the person that collects the tax and files the Form 720 excise tax return. Collected taxes are discussed further in Chapter 11. Cites: IRC §§ 4291 and 7501 and Reg. § 40.6011(a)-1.
Air Transportation Taxes
The percentage tax and the domestic segment tax are imposed on the amount paid for taxable transportation under IRC §§ 4261(a) and (b), respectively.
IRC § 4262(a) defines taxable transportation for purposes of sections 4261(a) and (b) as transportation by air that meets either of the following tests:
- Transportation that begins and ends in the United States or at any place in Canada or Mexico not more than 225 miles from the nearest point on the border of the continental United States (the 225-mile-zone rule) or
- Transportation that is directly or indirectly from one port or station in the United States to another port or station in the United States, but only if it is not a part of uninterrupted international air transportation.
Flights over international waters and international lands, such as flights to and from Alaska and Hawaii, require special consideration. Reference Alaska and Hawaii for special rules. Cite: IRC § 4262(b).
The term “225-mile zone” means that portion of Canada and Mexico that is not more than 225 miles from the nearest point in the continental United States. Cite: IRC § 4262(c)(2). The 225-mile zone only extends the area of the United States into Canada and Mexico for determination of the taxable transportation. It does not extend the area over the oceans to include any island nations. Note: For a listing of major Canadian and Mexican cities falling within the 225-mile zone, see Appendix B.
A flight from Minneapolis, MN, to Toronto, Canada, which is within the 225-mile zone, is considered to be taxable transportation for imposition of the taxes under sections 4261(a) and (b). This is true even though the aircraft has left the United States and has entered into Canada.
Uninterrupted International Air Transportation
Generally, uninterrupted international air transportation is defined as any transportation that does not both begin and end in the United States, and in which the scheduled interval between arrival and departure at any airport in the United States 12 hours or less. Cite: IRC § 4262(c)(3).
A flight departs Paris, France, and arrives in New York, NY. The passenger must change planes for his connecting flight to Dallas, Texas, which connects to a flight to Cancun, Mexico. Cancun is not located within the 225-mile zone. The scheduled time between arrival in New York and departure to Dallas is 3 hours and the scheduled time in Dallas until the flight to Cancun leaves is 4 hours. In this case, the taxes under sections 4261(a) and (b) do not apply because the flight between New York and Dallas is uninterrupted international air transportation.
However, if the passenger is scheduled to spend a couple of days in New York before continuing on to Dallas, where the passenger spends 13 hours, the flight sequence is broken down into three flights: one from Paris to New York, the second from New York to Dallas, and the third from Dallas to Cancun. The passenger’s flights would be subject to the taxes on air transportation. In this case, the percentage and domestic segment taxes under sections 4261(a) and (b) would be imposed on the flight between New York and Dallas and the international facilities tax imposed by section 4261(c) would be imposed on the flights from Paris to New York and again from Dallas to Cancun.
Location of Payment for the Air Transportation
If the payment for the taxable transportation of persons by air is made within the United States, then the percentage and domestic segment taxes will be imposed on flight segments which take-off and land in the United States and/or the 225-mile zone. However, if a payment is made for transportation of persons by air outside the United States, the percentage and segment taxes will apply to transportation which begins and ends within the United States. Cite: IRC § 4261(e)(2).
A flight from Toronto, Canada, to Vancouver, Canada, both of which are within the 225-mile zone, is considered to be taxable transportation for imposition of the taxes under sections 4261(a) and (b) if the payment for the air transportation is made within the United States. However, if the payment for the flight is made in Canada, the percentage and segment taxes will not apply to the flight.
No Amount Paid for Air Transportation
As a general rule, all amounts paid for the air transportation of persons are subject to tax. Where no amount is paid for air transportation, such as when the transportation is obtained by the redemption of frequent flyer miles, the transaction is not subject to the percentage tax, the domestic segment tax, or international facilities tax. Cite: Rev. Rul. 84-12, 1984-1 C.B. 211. Similarly, where an airline provides its employees with free air transportation, the tax does not apply. However, if the employee pays any amount for the flight, the amount paid is subject to tax. Cite: Rev. Rul. 70-381, 1970-2 C.B. 270.
Open Jaw Transportation
Round trip air transportation is considered to be two trips, the trip from Point A to Point B and the return trip from Point B back to Point A. Cite: IRC § 4263(e). When the round trip is to an international destination, the departing and returning flights are considered to be two separate trips and the international facilities tax is imposed on each of the trips, the departing trip and the returning trip.
“Open jaw” transportation occurs when either (1) the return trip of an international flight is to a point other than the original departure point within the U.S., or (2) the return trip of an international flight to the original departure point within the U.S. departs from a point other than the original specified destination. For example, X departs from Point A, a domestic location, to Point B, an international location, and returns from Point B to Point C, another domestic location. If the distance between domestic points (Points A and C) is less than the distance of the shorter leg traveled (Points A to B, or Points B to C), the flight pattern is considered to be open jaw transportation and to be two separate international flights. In this case, the international facilities tax under section 4261(c) is imposed on each flight. This is discussed in the example below.
A trip from New York to Panama and from Panama to New Orleans is considered to be two international flights because the distance of the open jaw (New York to New Orleans) is shorter than the distance between Panama and New Orleans (the shorter of the two segments traveled). Therefore, the international facilities tax is imposed on the flight from New York to Panama and again on the flight from Panama to New Orleans.
On the other hand, when a flight departs from Point A, a domestic location within the United States, and lands at Point B, an international location outside of the 225 mile zone, and then returns from Point B to Point C, a different domestic location within the United States, and the distance between Points A and C is longer than the distance traveled between Points A and B, or Points B and C, the flight pattern is considered to be one domestic trip from Point A to Point C. In this case, the percentage and domestic segment taxes imposed under sections 4261(a) and (b) apply. This is discussed in the example below:
A trip from New York to Bermuda and from Bermuda to Miami is considered to be one domestic flight from New York to Miami. The “open jaw” between New York and Miami is in the U.S. and the distance between New York and Miami is greater than the shorter segment traveled (Bermuda to Miami). Therefore, the percentage and domestic segment taxes under sections 4261(a) and (b) are imposed.
Exclusions from Taxable Transportation
The term “taxable transportation” does not include that portion of any transportation by air which meets all four of the following requirements:
- such portion is outside the United States;
- neither such portion nor any segment thereof is directly or indirectly-
- between (i) a point where the route of the transportation leaves or enters the continental United States, or (ii) a port or station in the 225-mile zone, and
- a port or station in the 225-mile zone;
- such portion-
- begins at either (i) the point where the route of the transportation leaves the United States, or (ii) a port or station in the 225-mile zone, and
- ends at either (i) the point where the route of the transportation enters the United States, or (ii) a port or station in the 225-mile zone; and
- a direct line from the point (or the port or station) specified in paragraph (3)(A), to the point (or the port or station) specified in paragraph (3)(B), passes through or over a point which is not within 225 miles of the United States.
Cite: IRC § 4262(b).
This exclusion generally comes into play for flights between Alaska and Hawaii and for flights between the continental United States or the 225 mile zone to Alaska and Hawaii. Flights between the continental United States and the states of Alaska or Hawaii fly over international waters or land. Therefore, the amount paid must be apportioned between the portion of the flight which flies over the United States and the portion of the flight which flies over international territories. This issue is discussed further in Chapter 9, Alaska and Hawaii.
As of October 1, 1999, IRC § 4261(a) imposes a tax of 7.5 percent on all amounts paid for taxable transportation, the percentage tax. The tax is imposed on amounts paid in cash, paid by property, or paid in barter situations. The tax is imposed at the time payment is made for the flight, not on the date of the flight itself.
Payments Subject to Tax
Amounts paid for air transportation include the following:
- Charges for layover or waiting time,
- Deadhead Service - Movement of an empty aircraft,
- Additional amounts paid to change the class of a ticket,
- State sales taxes - In Rev. Rul. 73-344, 1973-2 C.B. 365, the sales tax was imposed on the seller rather than the purchaser of air transportation. Thus, the amount paid by the purchaser for such sales tax is part of the ‘amount paid’ for air transportation.
- Cash fares - Cash is paid and no ticket is issued.
- Scrip books - Tax applies to the amount paid when the scrip book is purchased, not when it is used.
- Additional charges - Amounts paid for changing the route or destination, extending the time limit of a ticket, changing the class of accommodations, or providing exclusive occupancy of a section, etc. are subject to the tax.
- Commutation or season tickets - Commutation or season tickets are subject to the tax where a single trip is 30 miles or more and the ticket is good for more than 1 month. Tax is collected from the purchaser at the time of payment, not when the tickets are used.
- Prepaid exchange or similar order for transportation - The tax applies to the amounts paid for prepaid orders, exchange orders, or similar orders for transportation. Additional amounts paid in procuring transportation in connection with the use of prepaid orders, exchange orders, or similar orders, are likewise subject to tax.
- Combinations of rail, motor vehicle, water, or air transportation - The tax applies only to the portion of transportation that is by air. Taxability of tours and travel vacation packages is discussed further in Chapter 8, Tour Operators and Travel Agencies.
- Chartered conveyances - The tax is imposed on the amount paid for a chartered aircraft. Taxability of aircraft charters is discussed further in Chapter 5, Management Companies and Charters. However, if the owner of an aircraft sells transportation to a charterer then no tax will be due on the amount paid to the owner but the owner must inform the charterer of the charterer’s liability for collecting and accounting for the tax on the amount paid to him.
- Payments remitted to air transportation providers in foreign countries by persons in the United States – Where payments to a foreign entity that provides taxable transportation of persons by air are made by the purchaser through payment from within the United States, the payment is considered to be made within the United States, and tax applies.
Cite: IRC § 4262(d) and Facilities and Services Excise Taxes Reg. § 49.4261-7 provides specific examples of methods of payment that are subject to tax.
Frequent Flyer Miles
The percentage tax applies to any amount paid to an air carrier or related person, whether in cash or in kind, for the right to award free or reduced rate air transportation. Cite: IRC § 4261(e)(3). An example of this type of transaction is if a credit card company purchases miles from a carrier for the right to award the frequent flyer miles to its customers as a premium. Other entities which purchase miles include hotels, rental car companies, telecommunications companies, other foreign and domestic airlines, and passengers.
The percentage tax is computed based on the gross amount paid for the right to award frequent flyer miles. No bifurcation or division of the amounts paid between the frequent flyer miles and costs such as marketing is allowed. Limited guidance has been provided in Rev. Rul. 2002-60, 2002-2 C.B. 641; and Notice 2002-63, 2002-2 C.B. 644. Should an issue concerning the bifurcation, or division, of frequent flyer mile purchases occur, please contact the Air Transportation EIS or the Policy Analyst assigned to Air Transportation Taxes for assistance.
Travel Card Programs
Under an air travel card program, the customer purchases a travel card for a set fee. The travel card allows the customer a certain number of hours of flying time or value of flights on the air transporter’s aircraft. Since the travel card is an amount paid for air transportation, the amount paid for the card is generally considered taxable under section 4261(a) when the card is purchased. Reference Travel Card Programs for additional information on this issue.
Often, an air charter company is also in the business of selling aircraft. Because of the high cost of operating the aircraft for a demonstration flight, the air charter company will charge the prospective buyer a fee for the demonstration. Many times there is no tax collected on these demonstration flights. However, Revenue Ruling 68-256, 1968-1 C.B. 489,, provides that when a prospective purchaser makes a payment for a demonstration flight, the amount paid is an amount paid for taxable transportation. Therefore, under those circumstances, amounts paid for demonstration flights are taxable.
Other products are continually being developed by the industry. For example, recent developments have included gift certificates, gift cards, and passes for unlimited travel for certain periods of time. Request copies of contracts, including the terms and conditions, to determine the important facts concerning the product under review. If needed, contact the Air Transportation EIS or Analyst for assistance.
In addition to the percentage tax, a segment tax is imposed on each domestic segment of transportation of persons by air under section 4261(b) (except to or from a rural airport). A domestic segment is any segment consisting of one takeoff and one landing. In addition, the segment must be a part of taxable transportation described in section 4262(a)(1). Therefore, the segment tax applies when the air transportation begins in the United States or the 225-mile zone and also ends in the United States or the 225-mile zone. The tax is imposed on each person on board the aircraft and for each taxable segment flown. Cite: Rev. Rul. 2002-34, 2002-1 C.B. 1150.
Company charters an aircraft for 200 passengers. The aircraft flies round-trip from Oklahoma City, OK, to Memphis, TN. The segment tax is computed based on 400 segments (200 passengers times 2 segments). Assuming that all payments were made during 2006, the total segment tax would be $1,320 (200 persons times 2 segments times $3.30 tax rate).
Domestic Segment Tax Rates
|Date of Payment||Tax Rate|
|During 2003||$ 3.00|
|During 2004||$ 3.10|
|During 2005||$ 3.20|
|During 2006||$ 3.30|
|During 2007||$ 3.40|
|During 2008||$ 3.50|
During 2003 and thereafter, the segment tax is adjusted by the cost of living index determined under IRC § 1(f)(3). The segment tax is imposed when the payment is made even if the actual flight takes place at a later date. Although IRC § 4261(b)(1) states that the tax rate is determined when the segment begins, IRC § 4261(e)(4)(D) provides a special rule for segments beginning after 2002, and states that the tax will be based on the rate in effect at the time payment for air transportation is made.
The segment tax does not apply to a domestic segment beginning or ending at a rural airport. Cite: IRC § 4261(e)(1). NOTE: The percentage tax on the amount paid for domestic transportation is applicable to flights to and from rural airports at the 7.5 percent tax rate.
A rural airport, for these purposes, is any airport that had fewer than 100,000 commercial passengers departing in the second preceding calendar year, and
- Is not within 75 miles of an airport that had at least 100,000 commercial passengers departing in the second preceding calendar year; or
- Is receiving essential air service subsidies as of August 5, 1997.
Cite: IRC § 4261(e)(1)(B).
Beginning October 1, 2005, in addition to the above requirements, a rural airport also includes an airport that:
- Is not connected by paved roads to another airport, and
- Had fewer than 100,000 commercial air passengers on flight segments of at least 100 miles during the second preceding calendar year.
Cite IRC § 4261(e)(1)(B) (as amended by SAFETEA).
While most rural airports are at least 75 miles away from larger airports, in some states (e.g., Alaska), there are small community airports that are within 75 miles of a larger airport but are not connected by paved roads. Passengers who need to go to the larger airport cannot drive but have to fly to get there; thus, prior to this law change, they paid the segment tax on these flights.
Rev. Proc. 2005-45, 2005-2 C.B. 141, provides guidance in determining if an airport meets the definition of a rural airport. It states:
The U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with the Department of the Treasury, periodically publishes an updated list of [rural] airports…. This list may be relied upon to determine whether an airport is a rural airport for purposes of the exception from the domestic segment tax. The updated list of airports that meet the requirements of § 4261 (e)(1)(B) is located on the Excise Tax page. In addition, any airport not listed … qualifies as a rural airport if it meets the requirements of § 4261(e)(1)(B). [Rev. Proc. 98-18, 1998-1 CB 435, is obsoleted.]
Changes in Segments by Reason of Rerouting
If transportation is purchased between two locations on specified flights, and there is a change in the route which alters the number of domestic segments, but there is no change in the amount charged for the transportation, then there is no change in the domestic segment tax imposed. For example, if the aircraft is rerouted to another airport due to weather conditions en route to its final destination, there is no change in the domestic segment tax imposed. Cite: IRC § 4261(b)(3).
The “A” family books a flight from Seattle, WA, to Orlando, FL. The itinerary specifies a stopover in Salt Lake City to change planes on both legs of the trip. The family pays for the tickets, including the segment tax for 4 segments (Seattle to Salt Lake City plus Salt Lake City to Orlando plus Orlando to Salt Lake City plus Salt Lake City to Seattle).
Between Salt Lake City and Orlando, the pilot is directed to land the plane in Houston due to mechanical problems. This unscheduled stop in Houston creates an additional segment.
Since the additional segment was due to an unscheduled change in the flight pattern and no additional charge was imposed on the family, the segment tax for the additional segment is not imposed.
International Travel Facilities Tax
IRC § 4261(c)(1) imposes a tax on any amount paid for the transportation of any person by air that begins or ends in the United States. This tax is imposed at the time that the air transportation is purchased. The international facilities tax is imposed whether the payment for transportation is made inside or outside of the United States and whether the transportation provider is a domestic or foreign entity. The tax rate is indexed for inflation, as shown in the chart below..
|Tax Period||International Facilities Tax||IRC § 4261(c) Departures to/from Alaska and Hawaii|
|During 2003||$ 13.40||$ 6.70|
|During 2004||$ 13.70||$ 6.90|
|During 2005||$ 14.10||$ 7.00|
|During 2006||$ 14.50||$ 7.30|
|During 2007||$ 15.10||$ 7.50|
|During 2008||$ 15.40||$ 7.70|
Alaska and Hawaii
As noted in the chart above, a reduced international facilities tax is imposed on departures only for flights between the continental United States, and Alaska or Hawaii. Cite: IRC § 4261(c)(3). See the discussion of Alaska and Hawaii for details on the calculation.
Note: Travel between Alaska or Hawaii and a foreign destination, including U.S. possessions, is taxed exclusively as international travel and is subject to the full international facilities tax rate.
Air Carrier Liability
Although air carriers are generally responsible for collection and remitting air transportation taxes, liability for the tax is imposed on passengers. However, if the person paying for the taxable air transportation fails to pay the tax for any reason, the liability for the applicable section 4261 taxes is imposed on the air carrier providing the initial segment of air transportation that begins or ends in the United States. Cite: IRC § 4263(c). Note: Air carrier liability does not apply to the tax on amounts collected for the transportation of property under IRC section 4271.
Exemptions to the Section 4261 Tax
As a general rule, all amounts paid for the air transportation of persons are subject to tax. However, as with other excise taxes, there are exceptions to this rule. This chapter provides a list and a brief discussion of the exemptions to the taxes imposed under section 4261 of the Code.
Under IRC § 4261(f), no tax is imposed on air transportation by helicopter for the purpose of-
- transporting individuals, equipment, or supplies in the exploration for, or the development or removal of, hard minerals, oil, or gas, or
- the planting, cultivation, cutting, or transportation of, or caring for, trees including logging operations.
The flight is exempt from tax only if the helicopter does not take off from, or land at, a facility eligible for assistance under the Airport and Airway Development Act of 1970, or otherwise use services provided pursuant to section 44509 or 44913(b) or subchapter I of chapter 471 of title 49, United States Code during the flight. In the case of helicopter transportation described in paragraph (1), this subsection shall be applied by treating each flight segment as a distinct flight.
Contact the Airport Manager of the air facility in question to determine if the airport is eligible for assistance under the Airport and Airway Development Act of 1970.
Fixed Wing Aircraft - Forestry
For flights after September 30, 2005, IRC § 4261(f)(2) exempts flights on fixed-wing aircraft used for forestry purposes. Again, the flights are exempt only if the fixed wing aircraft does not take off from, or land at, a facility eligible for assistance under the Airport and Airway Development Act of 1970, or otherwise use services provided pursuant to section 44509 or 44913(b) or subchapter I of chapter 471 of title 49, United States Code, during the flight.
Contact the Airport Manager of the air facility in question to determine if the airport is eligible for assistance under the Airport and Airway Development Act of 1970.
Under IRC § 4261(g), no tax is imposed under section 4261 or 4271 on any air transportation for the purpose of providing emergency medical services-
- by helicopter, or
- by a fixed-wing aircraft equipped for and exclusively dedicated on that flight to acute care emergency medical services.
NOTE: Whenever an agent is dealing with verification of this exemption, extreme care should be given to protecting and respecting the patient’s right to privacy.
Under IRC § 4261(h), no tax is imposed by IRC section 4261 or 4271 on any air transportation exclusively for the purposes of skydiving. Cite: IRC § 4261(h).
Under IRC § 4261(i), no tax is imposed by section 4261 or 4271 on any air transportation by a seaplane with respect to any segment consisting of a takeoff from, and a landing on, water, but only if the places at which such takeoff and landing occur have not received and are not receiving financial assistance from the Airport and Airways Trust Fund. Cite: IRC § 4261(i), which was added by SAFETEA, is effective for flights after September 30, 2005.
Contact the Airport Manager of the air facility in question to determine if the airport is eligible for assistance under the Airport and Airways Trust Fund.
Small Aircraft on Nonestablished Lines
Under IRC § 4281, the taxes imposed by sections 4261 and 4271 shall not apply to transportation by an aircraft having a maximum certificated takeoff weight of 6,000 pounds or less, except when such aircraft is operated on an established line. For purposes of the preceding sentence, the term “maximum certificated takeoff weight” means the maximum such weight contained in the type certificate or airworthiness certificate. An aircraft is operated on an established line if the route is operated with some degree of regularity. Cite: IRC § 4281.
IRC § 4281 was amended by SAFETEA to create a “sightseeing” exemption for an aircraft with a certificated takeoff weight of 6,000 pounds or less at any time during which such aircraft is being operated on a flight the sole purpose of which is sightseeing. Cite: IRC § 4281.
Therefore, sightseeing flights on small aircraft are exempt from the domestic air transportation taxes for flights which occur after September 30, 2005. This amendment did not impact the taxability of sightseeing tours on aircraft or helicopters larger than 6,000 pounds.
Under IRC § 4282, if one member of an affiliated group is the owner or lessee of an aircraft, and such aircraft is not available for hire by persons who are not members of such group, no tax shall be imposed under section 4261 or 4271 upon any payment received by one member of the affiliated group from another member of such group for services furnished to such other member in connection with the use of such aircraft.
- Under section 4282(b), the determination of whether an aircraft is available for hire by persons who are not members of an affiliated group shall be made on a flight-by-flight basis.
- Under section 4282(c), the term “affiliated group” has the meaning assigned to the term by section 1504(a), except that all corporations shall be treated as includible corporations (without any exclusion under section 1504(b)).
In summary, for a group to qualify, there must be a parent corporation owning subsidiary corporations which meet the stock ownership percentage and other requirements specified in section 1504(a). Therefore, an individual owning two separate corporations will not qualify as an affiliated group. Cite: IRC § 4282.
A Schedule C entity, an individual, and filers of partnership returns do not meet the definition of a member of an affiliated group. For Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) to be treated as a member of an affiliated group, the treatment of the LLC on its income tax return must be considered. Reference Limited Liability Corporations/Disregarded Entities for additional information.
Charges for Nontransportation Services
Where a payment covers charges for nontransportation services as well as for transportation of a person, such as charges for meals, hotel accommodations, etc., the charges for the nontransportation services may be excluded in computing the tax payable with respect to such payment, provided such charges are separable and are shown in the exact amounts thereof in the records pertaining to the transportation charge. If the charges for nontransportation services are not separable from the charge for transportation of the person, the tax must be computed upon the full amount of the payment. Cite: Facilities and Services Excise Taxes Reg. §§ 49.4261-2(c) and 49.4261-8(f).
Exchange of Prepaid Order for Tickets
A ticket issued pursuant to an exchange order, prepaid order, airline pilot order, or scrip, is not subject to tax where the tax is paid at the time of payment for the order or scrip. Cite: Facilities and Services Excise Taxes Reg. § 49.4261-8(a).
Caretakers and Messengers Accompanying Freight Shipments
The tax on the transportation of persons does not apply to amounts paid for transportation of freight that includes also the transportation of caretakers or messengers for which no specific charge as such is made. Cite: Facilities and Services Excise Taxes Reg. § 49.4261-8(b).
Special Baggage Transportation Equipment
An amount paid for special baggage transportation equipment is not subject to the tax on the transportation of persons if separable from the payment for transportation of persons and if shown in the exact amount of the charge on the records covering the taxable transportation payment. Cite: Facilities and Services Excise Taxes Reg. § 49.4261-8(c).
An amount paid for excess baggage traveling with a passenger is not subject to section 4261 or 4271 taxes. Cite: Facilities and Services Excise Taxes Reg. § 49.4261-8(f)(1).
Circus or Show Conveyances
The amount paid pursuant to a contract for the movement of a circus or show conveyance where the amount covers only the transportation of the performers, laborers, animals, equipment, etc., by such conveyances is not subject to the tax on the transportation of persons imposed by section 4261. However, if the contract payment also covers the issuance to advance agents, bill posters, etc., of circus or show scrip books, or other evidence of the right to transportation, for use on regular passenger conveyances, that portion of the contract payment properly allocable to such scrip books or other evidence is subject to the tax on transportation of persons. Cite: Facilities and Services Excise Taxes Reg. § 49.4261-8(d).
The tax on the transportation of persons does not apply to the amount paid for the transportation of a corpse, but does apply to the amount paid for the transportation of any person accompanying the corpse. Cite: Facilities and Services Excise Taxes Reg. § 49.4261-8(e).
Caution on Former Exemptions
The exemptions listed under Facilities and Services Excise Taxes Reg. §§ 49.4263-1, 49.4263-3, and 49.4263-4, such as the exemption for commutation tickets, the American Red Cross, and Members of the Armed Forces, have not existed since the 1970 law change, but some printed hardcopies of the regulations often contain copies of these regulations.
Business and Private Aircraft
Many individuals and businesses own aircraft that are used for personal and/or business purposes. Usually, these aircraft are operated under Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR), Part 91. This FAA regulation allows noncommercial operators to engage in certain arrangements that may be viewed as a “taxable corporation” under the tax laws without jeopardizing their Part 91 certificates. The differing FAA and IRS definitions can cause confusion among aircraft operators and owners. As a result, aircraft owners often assume that since a flight is not considered commercial for FAA purposes, the same flight is not considered taxable transportation under tax laws. The Service is not bound by other agencies’ definitions. Rev. Rul. 78-75, 1978-1 C.B. 340, states that the status of an aircraft operator as a “commercial operator” under FAA regulations does not determine the commercial or noncommercial status of the operator in the application of the aviation fuel and air transportation taxes.
When an individual owns his or her own aircraft, use by that individual to fly himself or herself, family members, and friends is generally not a taxable situation for air transportation excise tax purposes. This statement is true as long as the individual does not receive compensation either in the form of cash or property. Once compensation or reimbursement for expenses is received, the owner will generally be considered to have received an amount paid for transportation. As a result, the transportation should be evaluated and the appropriate taxes under section 4261 and 4271 should be imposed on the “customer”. This is true even if the owner of the aircraft is an individual and is not normally considered to be in the business of providing transportation of persons by air.
Businesses may also own an aircraft that they use in the course of their trade or business. Most business use is to move employees, shareholders, and corporate officers to specified locations for valid business purposes. Some businesses have chosen to purchase an aircraft or an interest in an aircraft. This chapter will discuss the basics of business aircraft ownership. More detailed issues concerning fractional ownership and arrangements with a management company see Management Companies and Charters.
In large corporations with multiple subsidiaries, the parent corporation may form an “aircraft operations” entity to operate the corporate owned aircraft. Under this situation, when the aircraft operations subsidiary provides air transportation to the other entities owned by the parent corporation, payments for the flights may be exempt from the transportation of persons by air tax.
IRC § 4282 provides an exemption from the section 4261 taxes for amounts paid by one member of the affiliated group to another member of the affiliated group. The term “affiliated group” is defined in section 4282(c). If an outside third party (i.e., not a member of the affiliated group) uses the aircraft, the use is outside of the affiliated group and any amount paid for air transportation is taxable under section 4261 or 4271. This affiliated group exemption is now determined on a flight-by-flight basis.
In 2000, Corporation O, a subsidiary of Corporation A, purchases an aircraft for use by members of Corporation A’s affiliated group. Corporation S, another subsidiary of Corporation A, uses the aircraft every Tuesday and Wednesday. A book entry is made between Corporation S and Corporation O for the fair market value of the use of the aircraft every month. On Mondays and Thursdays, Corporation V, who does not meet the definition of a member of Corporation A’s affiliated group, uses the aircraft and pays the fair market value for the hours it uses the plane.
In this situation, amounts paid for the flights taken by Corporation S are exempt under the affiliated group exemption contained in section 4282. However, the amounts paid for the flights taken by Corporation V do not qualify for the affiliated group exemption and are taxable. The fact that the aircraft is used by Corporation V in between Corporation S’s uses does not invalidate the exemption for Corporation S’s flights.
Partnerships, Schedule C entities, Schedule F entities, and disregarded entities which have not chosen to be treated as a corporation cannot meet the definition of a member of an affiliated group. Therefore, if a related partnership or other non-corporate entity uses an affiliated group’s aircraft, the amounts paid for the use of the aircraft are subject to tax under sections 4261 and 4271.
The same theory holds true when the related partnership or non-corporate entity is the entity that owns or operates the aircraft. In this case, since the related partnership or non-corporate entity does not meet the definition of an entity includable in the affiliated group, the amount paid by any member of the affiliated group that uses the aircraft is subject to the air transportation tax.
Limited Liability Corporations/Disregarded Entities
Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) are often referred to as “disregarded entities”. An LLC is a legal entity formed by a single owner or multiple owners who can be corporations, individuals, or partnerships. An LLC with multiple owners is treated as a partnership required to file a Form 1065, unless it elects to be treated as a corporation. This election is made by the LLC when it files its first income tax return. The LLC has “checked the box” by checking the initial return box on the income tax return. Once the LLC has chosen to be treated as a corporation for income tax purposes, it has the further option of electing s-corporation status. By filing a Form 1065, the entity, by default, has remained a partnership.
In contrast, an LLC with a single owner (“single member LLC”) may also elect to be treated as a corporation. However, if the single member LLC chooses not to make this election, it defaults and is absorbed into its owner’s tax return. For example, the owner reports the activity on Form 1040 Schedule C, Form 1040 Schedule F, or Form 1120. Once the facts of ownership of the LLC and the income tax reporting of the LLC are determined, the regular excise tax rules concerning the affiliated group exemption may be applied.
Treasury Decision (TD) 9356, published August 16, 2007, amended Procedure and Administration Regulation § 301.7701-2, regarding the treatment of employment and excise taxes for LLCs. The final regulations, which are effective January 1, 2008, provide that single-owner eligible entities that currently are disregarded as entities separate from their owners for federal tax purposes will be treated as separate entities for employment tax, related reporting requirement purposes, and for certain excise taxes, including the taxes in sections 4261 and 4271. Thus, a number of transactions that were previously not taxable may now be subject to these excise taxes.
Interchange agreements commonly occur between aircraft owners usually located in a geographical location. An interchange agreement allows two or more unrelated entities that own aircraft to use the others' aircraft on an as-needed basis. The arrangement provides the entities the ability to use two or more aircraft at the same time or to have their aircraft be used by another party for compensation. This assists in reducing costs of operating the aircraft.
Each entity bears the costs and expenses of operating its own aircraft. Out-of-pocket expenses not directly related to the operation of the aircraft are borne by the entity using the aircraft. In many cases, the interchange agreement works on a barter system, with each entity earning credit for flight time. Although interchange agreements are permitted under FAR Part 91, they may constitute taxable air transportation under IRC § 4261. The fair market value of the barter as well as any payment made will be considered an amount paid under section 4261.
Due to the high cost of ownership and maintenance of aircraft, entities often purchase an aircraft jointly with an unrelated party. The joint owners share the fixed costs and pay for their own direct operating expenses. In general, registered owners who pay their pro rata share of the fixed costs and their own direct operating costs are treated as using their own aircraft. Therefore, the flights that they take on their jointly owned aircraft are not subject to air transportation taxes. However, the taxability of their flights might change if the owners should relinquish possession, command, and control of their aircraft. Possession, Command, and Control is discussed in Chapter 4, Aircraft Leases.
The taxability of flights might also change if the joint owners place the aircraft in a partnership and reimburse their flight expenses to the partnership. NOTE: Joint ownership is different than fractional ownership which is discussed in Chapter 6, Fractional Ownership Issues.
Personal Use of Business Aircraft by Individuals
When a business aircraft is available to employees, partners, shareholders, directors, and officers for personal use, there may be taxable transportation of persons by air. In any case where the individual reimburses the owner entity for the value of the flight or for all or part of the expenses of the flight, a payment for air transportation has been made and the amount paid to the owner entity for the flight is subject to the air transportation excise tax. However, if the owner entity maintains possession, command, and control of the aircraft and if the individual has the value of the flight included in their income, no payment has been made by the flight recipient and there is no tax due under section 4261. Cite: Rev. Rul. 76-431, 1976-2 C.B. 328.
Often, the owner of an aircraft will lease the aircraft to another party to reduce the costs attributable to owning the aircraft. The lease can be a permanent lease, where the lessee always has use of the aircraft, for a single flight only, or some arrangement in between. Amounts paid under these leases may be subject to air transportation taxes under section 4261 or 4271. The determination of whether the lease payment is subject to air transportation taxes depends on whether the owner of the aircraft transfers possession, command, and control of the aircraft to the lessee. This chapter will cover the basics of leases.
Possession, Command, and Control
Determining who has possession, command and control of the aircraft is the most important item in determining the taxability of the transaction and the entity responsible for collecting the section 4261 or 4271 taxes. Possession, command and control is determined by looking at:
- Who chooses and pays for the pilots,
- Who provides maintenance on the aircraft,
- Who controls the scheduling of the aircraft, and
- Who pays for the insurance and other expenses of the aircraft.
An analysis of these criteria can generally determine who has possession, command, and control of the aircraft in order to determine whether taxable transportation has been provided. Generally, the entity having possession, command, and control is considered the entity selling transportation and is the collector of the air transportation taxes. Cite: Rev. Rul. 60-311, 1060-2 C.B. 341, Rev. Rul. 58-215, 1958-1 C.B. 439, and Rev. Rul. 68-256, 1968-1 C.B. 489. This may result in the actual owner of the aircraft relinquishing possession, command, and control of the aircraft and becoming subject to the taxes under sections 4261 and 4271.
A look at how the lease of the aircraft is structured can provide information as to who has possession, command, and control of the aircraft.
Under a wet lease, the lessor includes the pilot, crew and other services as part of the lease arrangement. Generally, under a wet lease the lessor has not given up possession, command, and control of the aircraft.
V Corporation purchases an aircraft for use in its operations. Occasionally, V Corporation leases its aircraft to outside third parties. Since V Corporation’s insurer will not offer coverage for the aircraft unless one of V Corporation’s certified and approved pilots is in control of the aircraft, the lease is established as a “wet lease”. Therefore, V Corporation’s pilots will pilot the aircraft when it is leased to an unrelated third party. V Corporation also has the right to schedule the aircraft and to bump an outside third party should V Corporation need the aircraft on the date an outside third party had already leased it.
In this case, V Corporation has maintained possession, command, and control of the aircraft. The unrelated third party is liable for tax under section 4261 or 4271, on its amount paid and V Corporation is responsible for collecting and remitting the tax.
Under a dry lease, the lessor supplies only the aircraft. The lessee furnishes his own pilot and crew. The lessee is also responsible for aircraft operation costs and for all fees, such as landing fees, incurred on the flight. Under a dry lease, possession, command, and control of the aircraft is transferred to the lessee.
A corporation finds that it is not using its corporate aircraft as often as it would like. In addition, the costs of operating the aircraft, maintaining the crew, and performing maintenance on the aircraft is more than the corporation can afford. In order to reduce these costs and to keep the aircraft in the air as much as possible, the corporation leases the aircraft to an aircraft management company. At the same time, the corporation enters into an agreement with the management company for the management company to provide the pilots of the aircraft, schedule the aircraft, and maintain the aircraft.
In this case a dry lease has been established. Possession, command, and control of the aircraft has transferred to the aircraft management company. Lease payments received by the corporation from the aircraft management company are not subject to the transportation of persons excise tax as the amounts are for rental of the aircraft.
Additional Cites for Lease Issues
The following citations address various issues concerning the lease of an aircraft:
Rev. Rul. 57-545, 1957-2 C.B. 749: Amounts paid by a company for the lease of an aircraft, including operation and maintenance expenses, for transporting the company's personnel are subject to the tax imposed by section 4261.
Rev. Rul. 58-215, 1958-1 C.B. 439: A corporation that owns an aircraft and appoints an airline company to service, maintain, and operate the aircraft for the purpose of transporting the corporation's personnel is not being furnished transportation by the airline company and is not subject to the section 4261 tax.
Rev. Rul. 60-311, 1960-2 C.B. 341: An owner of an aircraft is furnishing taxable transportation if the owner:
- Leases the aircraft with pilots to others for transportation of persons by air;
- Retains elements of possession, command, and control of the aircraft; and
- Performs all services in connection with the operation of the aircraft.
Rev. Rul. 68-256, 1968-1 C.B. 489: Applicability of the excise tax on the transportation of persons by air to payments made in connection with flights for demonstration purposes,
Rev. Rul. 70-325, 1970-1 C.B. 231: Applicability of the tax where an individual leases a plane to a corporation in which he is the sole stockholder.
Rev. Rul. 2005-64, 2005-39 I.R.B. 600: If an individual, through a subchapter S Corporation, leases an aircraft for another's use, supplying neither pilot nor crew under a dry lease, then the section 4261 tax does not apply. However, if the S corporation provides a pilot and crew to operate and maintain the aircraft, and food and fuel for travel under a wet lease, then the section 4261 tax applies.
Management Companies and Charters
Jet aircraft are expensive to purchase and maintain. After the aircraft is acquired, owners usually either have to hire an aircraft management company or create an internal flight department. An internal flight department offers the highest degree of control, but also a higher level of complexity and cost. An aircraft management company will serve as an external flight department and provide key services requiring aviation competence, including hiring and training pilots, flight planning, aircraft scheduling, maintenance, and fueling.
The hiring of an aircraft management company may create taxable situations for the aircraft owner or for the management company. Since the issues for aircraft charter companies tend to mirror the issues for aircraft management companies, the issues for both types of entities will be presented together in this Chapter.
Definition of Commercial Aviation
When dealing with corporate aircraft, aircraft management companies, and aircraft charter companies, it is important to distinguish between two different definitions of “commercial aviation”. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines commercial aviation as the carriage of persons or property by air for profit. This definition is in contrast to the Service’s definition, which simply requires that the carriage by aircraft be undertaken for compensation. To add to the confusion, the FAA’s Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) allows Part 91 noncommercial operators the ability to engage in certain aircraft carriage arrangements which could be viewed as commercial aviation under FAA rules, without jeopardizing the Part 91 certificate. The differing definitions can cause confusion among aircraft operators and owners.
Flight departments often assume that, since a flight is not considered as a commercial flight for FAA purposes, the flight is not considered commercial for any other purpose. However, the Service is not bound by other agencies' definitions of commercial and noncommercial aviation. Rev. Rul. 78-75, 1978-1 C.B. 340, states that the status of an aircraft operator as a “commercial operator” under FAA regulations does not determine the commercial or noncommercial status of the operator in the application of the aviation fuel and air transportation taxes. Therefore, the Service’s definition of commercial aviation, carriage of persons or property by aircraft for compensation, is to be applied when determining taxability for excise tax purposes under IRC sections 4261 and 4271.
Aircraft Charter Companies
There are a number of entities that own aircraft and are in the business of chartering aircraft out to unrelated third parties. The charters can occur on an as needed basis or can be set to occur on a regular schedule. The air transportation services provided, as well as the amounts paid for the air transportation of persons or property, are agreed to by the parties and are noted in an aircraft charter agreement. When a flight is needed, the business entity or individual will contact the charter company to arrange a flight through the charter company’s flight department. The charter company will bill the business entity or individual chartering the flight for the flights flown based upon the terms of the aircraft charter agreement, often on a monthly basis. The aircraft charter company will also enter into charter agreements with individuals and smaller businesses on a one-time only or on an as needed basis. In many cases, an aircraft charter can be more economical than using a commercial airline.
Air Charter with Wet Lease
An air charter company may wet lease the aircraft to the charterer. In a wet lease, the charter company provides the pilot and crew, as well as other services, as a part of the lease arrangement. In this case, the charter company maintains possession, command, and control of the aircraft. Therefore, the charter company is responsible for collecting and remitting the applicable air transportation excise taxes imposed on the amounts paid for air transportation under sections 4261 and 4271. However, if the person chartering the aircraft intends to charge unrelated third parties for air transportation on the aircraft, the air charter company must inform the person chartering the aircraft of its obligation to collect the taxes under section 4261 or 4271 on the amounts paid by the third parties. Cite: Facilities and Services Excise Tax Regs. § 49.4261-7(h).
Taxable Amounts Paid
The amount paid for taxable transportation for an aircraft charter includes the actual amount paid for the flight plus any payments made for related air transportation services. Such payments include:
- Lease fees – the amount paid for the lease of the aircraft,
- Hourly charges for the operation of the aircraft. The time the aircraft is in operation for the lease is usually determined from the amount of time the aircraft engine is operating plus a stated amount of time before takeoff and after landing for preflight and postflight activities,
- Fuel costs, including surcharges,
- Meals, if not separately stated,
- Charges for pilot or aircraft waiting time,
- Charges for deadhead service (movement of an empty plane to the site where needed or in returning to the charter operator’s base airport),
- Charges for crew expenses including meals, hotels, car rentals, etc.
- Sales taxes (see Rev. Rul. 73-344, noted below),
- Landing fees, aircraft parking fees, hangar fees, and other amounts directly related to the flight.
A number of Revenue Rulings have been issued on the items includable in the taxable amount for the domestic air transportation percentage tax. These Revenue Rulings are summarized below:
- Amounts paid for charges in connection with layover time of charter aircraft consisting of an hourly rate plus expenses of the pilot and crew are subject to the air transportation tax. Cite: Rev. Rul. 72-565, 1972-2 C.B. 578.
- State sales tax imposed on sellers of air transportation and passed on to their customers as a separately billed item is part of the amount paid and is includible in the tax base. Cite: Rev. Rul. 73-344, 1973-2 C.B. 365.
- Amounts paid by a federal agency for transportation of its employees to an air charter company for flights on both Government-owned and company planes are taxable under section 4261. The computation of the tax may be based either on the cash received plus the value of the aircraft use and other agency contributions, or a comparable amount for similar services using a company plane. Cite: Rev. Rul. 74-123, 1974-1 C.B. 318.
In 2007, Charter Company A leases its aircraft to Corporation E under a wet lease to fly ten officers of Corporation E on a round trip from Chicago to New York. The lease hours totaled 8 hours for two flights of 4 hours each way. Lease of Aircraft per hour is $2,000, which includes the use of the aircraft and the base cost of the fuel consumed. Due to the increased cost of fuel, Charter Company A also charged a fuel surcharge of $1,000. Costs for the crew to stay in New York while Corporation E’s officers attended their meeting totaled $500. Landing and takeoff fees for the round trip flight in the amount of $1,000 were also imposed. Charter Company A also charged Corporation E for 10 meals served on each leg of the round trip flight and separately stated the item on the billing statement.
Corporation E will be billed and Charter Company A will collect and remit $1,455.50 for the air transportation excise taxes imposed on the amounts paid for the round trip flight. The amount of tax is computed as follows:
|Aircraft Charter||16,000||(8 hrs Times $2,000 per hr)|
|Landing and Takeoff Fees||1,000|
|Total Taxable Fees||18,500||Addition of all of the above|
|Tax Rate||7.5 %||Times|
|Total Percentage Tax||1,387.50 (a)||Equals|
|Number Taxable Segments||20||(10 employees Times 2 segments)|
|Segment Tax Rate||3.40||Times|
|Total Segment Tax||68.00 (b)||Equals|
|Total Air Transportation Tax||1,455.50||Addition of (a) and (b)|
Note: The amount paid for meal service is not taxable because it was separately stated on the billing statement and is not costs of providing air transportation.
Air Charter with Dry Lease
In a dry lease, the person chartering the aircraft provides its own pilot to fly the aircraft leased from the air charter company. A dry lease usually causes the possession, command, and control of the aircraft to shift from the aircraft charter company to the person chartering the aircraft. If possession, command, and control shifts, there is no excise tax imposed on the amounts paid for the air transportation. The aircraft charter company is no longer responsible for collecting and remitting the tax. However, if the person chartering the aircraft intends to charge third parties for air transportation on the aircraft, the air charter company must inform the person chartering the aircraft of its obligation to collect the taxes under section 4261 or 4271 on the amounts paid by the third parties. Cite: Facilities and Services Excise Taxes Reg. § 49.4261-7(h).
Charter Company A leases its aircraft to Corporation E under a dry lease. Under the lease, Corporation E is responsible for providing a qualified pilot and crew to fly the aircraft as well as all items necessary for the operation of the aircraft during the lease period, including the fuel. In this case, possession, command, and control of the aircraft has shifted from Charter Company A to Corporation E. Charter Company A is not responsible for collecting and remitting the section 4261 and/or 4271 taxes on amounts paid for the lease. However, Charter Company A must notify Corporation E of Corporation E’s responsibility to collect and remit the taxes if Corporation E is paid by third parties for air transportation services.
An aircraft management company differs from an aircraft charter company in that a management company’s business purpose is to manage the operations of an aircraft. To do this, the aircraft management company will enter into an agreement with a related or unrelated entity to operate and maintain that entity’s aircraft. Most often, the aircraft placed into a management agreement is owned by mid- to large-size business entities. The aircraft owner contracts with a management company to place the aircraft into a fleet of aircraft to be leased to third parties when not being used by the owner. Thus, the aircraft may be used more often and generate income to the aircraft owner. In addition, the aircraft owner does not need to maintain a flight department on its payroll to maintain and schedule the aircraft.
Wet Lease to Aircraft Management Company
The aircraft owner may lease the aircraft to the management company under a wet lease. With a wet lease, the aircraft owner pays for all costs attributable to the operation of the aircraft, including the pilot and crew salaries, fuel, insurance, and fees incurred when the aircraft is used. The aircraft owner retains the right to direct the pilots when and where to fly as well as to be able to replace a pilot certified to fly the aircraft. Therefore, the aircraft owner retains possession, command, and control of the aircraft.
The aircraft management company in this case acts as an agent of the corporation. In this capacity, the aircraft management company is not required to collect the air transportation tax on amounts it receives from the aircraft owner. Cite: Rev. Rul. 58-215, 1958-1 C.B. 439; Rev. Rul. 60-311, 1960-2 C.B. 341. The aircraft owner is responsible for collecting and depositing the tax under section 4261 on amounts paid for any use by the management company or on the amounts paid for unrelated third party flights. When the aircraft owner uses its own aircraft, no tax is due.
Corporation B owns a jet aircraft. Corporation B contracts with Aircraft Maintenance Company D (AMCD) to provide maintenance and hangar space for the aircraft. Corporation B still keeps two pilots and other crew members on its payroll and maintains full ability to direct the times and locations of flights. Corporation B also wants to earn income from the aircraft when the corporation is not using it. Thus, the corporation enters into a contract with AMCD to notify it when an unrelated third party would like to use the aircraft. AMCD receives a $300 fee for each name forwarded. Corporation B’s pilots will fly these charters. Since Corporation B retains possession, command, and control of the aircraft, Corporation B is responsible for collecting and remitting the tax on the amounts paid for the charters. No tax is imposed on the amounts paid for services provided by AMCD when Corporation B uses its own aircraft.
Dry Lease to Aircraft Management Company
On the other hand, the aircraft owner may lease the aircraft to the management company under a dry lease. Under a dry lease, the aircraft owner is leasing the aircraft itself and the management company is providing the pilot. The management company will also coordinate all scheduling of the aircraft. In this case, possession, command, and control of the aircraft has been transferred from the aircraft owner to the management company. The management company now becomes responsible for collecting and remitting the air transportation excise taxes under sections 4261 and 4271 on amounts paid for the use of the aircraft.
Under a dry lease, since possession, command, and control has been relinquished by the aircraft owner, amounts it pays for its own flights are taxable. In other words, the aircraft owner’s flights are treated the same as flights of unrelated third parties. In this case, the affiliated group exemption from the air transportation tax under section 4282 would not apply because the management company has possession, command, and control. The management company is basically wet leasing the aircraft back to the aircraft’s owner. The tax under section 4261 is calculated on all amounts paid to the management company by the aircraft owner. Taxable fees may include:
- Hourly flight operation charges,
- Aircraft management fees,
- Aircraft maintenance fees for general maintenance, not capital improvements,
- Administrative charges for scheduling the aircraft,
- Pilot and crew salaries,
- Meals, if not separately stated,
- Charges for pilot or aircraft waiting time,
- Charges for deadhead service (movement of an empty plane to the site where needed or in returning to the charter operator’s base airport),
- Charges for crew expenses including meals, hotels, car rentals, etc.
- Sales taxes,
- Landing fees, aircraft parking fees, hangar fees, and other amounts directly related to the flight.
- Charges for fuel, including any surcharges.
Cite: Rev. Rul. 58-215, 1958-1 C.B. 439.
Corporation A enters into a dry lease with Aircraft Management Company D (AMCD) for its corporate jet. Under the dry lease, AMCD maintains the aircraft and provides pilots who are certified to fly the aircraft, as well as a qualified crew. The aircraft is to be made available for third party leases when Corporation A is not using it. All flights are coordinated by AMCD’s staff.
In this case, possession, command, and control of the aircraft shifts from Corporation A to AMCD. AMCD is now responsible for collecting and remitting the air transportation taxes imposed under sections 4261 and 4271 on the amounts paid for the use of the aircraft. Since possession, command, and control is held by AMCD, whenever Corporation A, or one of its affiliates, uses the aircraft, the amounts paid for the flight are subject to the section 4261 and 4271 air transportation taxes. In addition, the monthly management fees and all other fees paid by Corporation A to AMCD are subject to the taxes.
A time-sharing or interchange agreement is an arrangement whereby an aircraft owner wet leases its airplane, with pilot and crew, to another entity. These agreements may be arranged between two or more parties with no assistance from a management company.
A time-sharing agreement occurs when an entity that needs private air transportation enters into an agreement with an unrelated entity that owns an aircraft (usually, but not always, in the same geographical location). These agreements are typically for cash payment for use of the aircraft.
In an interchange agreement, an entity that owns an aircraft enters into an agreement with one or more unrelated entities that also own aircraft. In this case, the unrelated entities trade time on each other’s aircraft. Generally, an accounting of flight hours and the value of the aircraft’s usage is made at the end of the year end, and any net monies due are paid at the time.
In general, an amount is paid for the expenses specific to each time sharing or interchange flight. These charges are billed by the aircraft owner to the user of the aircraft and may include:
- Fuel, oil, lubricants, and other additives;
- Travel expenses of the crew, including food, lodging, and ground transportation;
- Hanger and tie down costs away from the aircraft's base of operation;
- Insurance obtained for the specific flights;
- Landing fees, airport taxes and similar expenses;
- Customs, foreign permits, and similar fees directly related to the flight;
- In-flight food and beverages;
- Passenger ground transportation;
- Flight planning and weather control; and
- An additional charge equal to 100 percent of the fuel, oil, lubricants, and other additives.
These amounts are included in the section 4261 tax base unless specifically exempted as discussed in Chapter 2, Exemptions. The taxable amount includes the fees noted above along with the value of the flight. The value of the flight is considered to be taxable because the value of the service and use of the aircraft was received by the user in a barter transaction.
Although a time-sharing agreement flight or an interchange agreement flight is not considered to be a commercial flight for FAA purposes, these arrangements meet the Service’s definition of a commercial flight because amounts are paid for the air transportation of persons or property. Therefore, amounts paid (including amounts paid in kind) for the transportation are fully taxable under sections 4261 and 4271.
Introduction to Fractional Ownership
In a fractional ownership arrangement, fractional shares of an aircraft are “sold” to a number of persons/entities. The registered joint owners of the aircraft enter into a contract with a fractional management company to manage the aircraft operations. The fractional management company hires the pilots and pays their salaries.
The issue of whether the fractional owners have surrendered possession, command, and control of the aircraft to the fractional management company must be addressed. The nature of the rights surrendered must be weighed against the nature of the rights retained in order to determine whether the fractional management company is providing taxable transportation. Reference Chapter 6, Fractional Aircraft Ownership for additional information on fractional management companies.
Travel Card Programs
Management companies have created a new twist in providing air transportation services by establishing travel card programs. Under a travel card program, the customer purchases a travel card for a set fee. The travel card allows the customer a certain number of hours of flying time on the air transporter’s aircraft. When a flight occurs, the customer’s card is debited for the appropriate number of hours of flying time and the customer is charged fees incidental to that flight, such as landing fees and fuel.
Since the air travel card is an amount paid for air transportation in advance, the amount paid for the card is taxable under section 4261 when the card is purchased. The additional fees are taxable under sections 4261 and 4271 when the flight occurs. Segment taxes will also be imposed at the time of the flight, because the number of segments and the number of passengers is determined at that time.
Air Charter Company A sells travel cards to customers. The fee to purchase the card is $100,000, which entitles the purchaser to 50 hours of flight time on Air Charter Company A’s aircraft. At the time the travel card is sold to a customer, Air Charter Company A must collect and remit the section 4261 tax in the amount of $7,500 (0.075 times 100,000). When a customer uses the card, fees incurred with the flight including pilot and crew costs, landing and hangar fees, and fuel charges are billed. At this time, Air Charter Company A is responsible for collecting and remitting the section 4261 taxes on the additional fees, as well as the domestic segment taxes. Note the special rule in section 4261(e)(4)(D) for calculating the domestic segment tax. If the actual itinerary involves transportation that would be taxable under section 4261(c), use of international travel facilities, contact Counsel for advice.
Note that neither the Code nor any IRS published guidance specifically addresses the issues related to travel card programs.
Charters by Tour Companies
When a tour agency sells a package tour, it may have to collect the section 4261 and 4271 taxes on the payment. Rev. Rul. 75-296, 1975-2 C.B. 440, considers the application of the tax to two situations involving travel agencies. One travel agency (Agency A) is an independent broker that charters an aircraft from an airline and sells tours to individuals and groups. The other travel agency (Agency B), which represents an airline and is under the supervision and control of that airline, is not licensed as a broker. When Agency B sells tours it retains a commission and remits the remainder of the amount collected to the airline. The ruling holds that Agency A is operating as a principal and is required to collect the tax and pay it over to the government. Agency B, because it operates under the control of the airline, is an agent of the airline. As the airline's agent, Agency B must collect the tax and remit it to the airline, which, in turn, must pay it over to the government.
Section 49.4261-7(h) of the regulations provides that a person who charters an aircraft and then charges others for transportation on that aircraft must collect the tax. However, the facts in each case must be analyzed to determine who is purchasing taxable transportation. Cite: Facilities and Services Excise Taxes Reg. § 49.4261-7(h)(1) and (2).
A demonstration flight takes place when a potential buyer rides in an aircraft in contemplation of the purchase of the aircraft. In Rev. Rul. 68-256, 1968-1 C.B. 489, no tax is imposed if the seller of the aircraft provides a free demonstration. On the other hand, if the seller receives any payment (even voluntary) from the potential buyer for the demonstration flight, then payment has been made for taxable transportation, and the taxes under section 4261 apply. In addition, tax may apply if the seller leases an aircraft from a third party for purposes of the demonstration. See Rev. Rul. 68-256.
There is a unique approach to conducting an examination of a small air charter company. The most important item is to conduct an in-depth interview to review the operations of the company with an employee or officer. The interview is to be used to determine the following items:
- The type of services provided,
- The types of aircraft flown,
- Whether each aircraft is leased or owned,
- The geographical area covered,
- The types of records kept,
- The services the air charter provider considers to be taxable,
- The services the air charter provider considers to be non-taxable, including the reason for non-taxability of the item,
- The method by which the components of the transportation of persons by air tax is computed,
- Any other information which can be obtained about the business practices.
Additional audit tasks to be performed include:
- Secure a list of all aircraft owned or leased by the company. The information is to include the registration numbers of each aircraft along with the certificated take-off weight of each aircraft.
- Review the flight logs and corresponding invoices looking for untaxed flights and details of untaxed items. Verify that all taxable items are properly accounted for.
- Note: Be especially alert as to how the air charter provider calculates the segment fees on each flight. The segment fees may be incorrectly calculated on the single charter of the aircraft, instead of the number of segments and the number of passengers per segment. Reference: Rev. Rul. 2002-34, 202-24 I.R.B. 1150.
- Request and review all lease agreements to determine if there are any issues involving wet vs. dry leases. Reference the discussion of leases in Chapter 4, Aircraft Leases.
- Review aviation fuel usage looking for the correct tax rates for the type of flights flown and improper claims and credits. Review the Form 4136 attached to the income tax return, the Form 8849 filed for fuel claims, and the fuel purchase and usage reports.
- Review sales and accounts receivable to ensure all flights are accounted for and for unusual entries.
Some of the common issues encountered include, but are not limited to:
- Items improperly excluded from the tax calculation.
- Flights excluded based on improper exemptions.
- Segment fees calculated improperly.
- Tax on the Use of International Facilities not paid or calculated improperly.
- Improper treatment of wet or dry leases including determination of possession, command, and control of the aircraft.
- Improper treatment of aviation fuel tax rates imposed and claimed.
Fractional Aircraft Ownership
Note that neither the Code nor any IRS published guidance specifically addresses the issues discussed in this chapter.
Fractional aircraft ownership first appeared in the mid-1980s. It was created due to the increasing costs of aircraft ownership coupled with the complexities of maintaining a modern business jet. Most Taxpayers do not have the expertise or experience needed to deal with the myriad of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, in addition to state rules and foreign government requirements. Fractional Management companies have risen to meet these challenges. In doing so, they have created a situation whereby they are now providing taxable air transportation service under sections 4261 and 4271.
Fractional aircraft ownership offers a tremendous amount of flexibility. Availability of an aircraft is guaranteed. There are no pre-set rules regarding advance notice requirements to obtain the use of an aircraft and last-minute, or even en route, travel changes are easily accommodated.
The FAA has provided regulations governing fractional ownership programs under FAA part 91. Cite: FAA Regulations, part 91, subpart K, section 91.1001. The regulations impose training requirements, flight-and-duty time restrictions, maintenance requirements, and record-keeping obligations on fractional programs which are similar to those governing air charter operations. The difference between the FAA rules and regulations, and the federal excise tax laws, is that the FAA rules and regulations are geared toward ensuring the flying safety of the public, whereas the federal tax law is geared toward administering the excise tax laws.
The Fractional Aircraft Program
A Fractional Management Company offers prospective jet aircraft owners the ability to purchase a share of an aircraft. Fractional Management companies can operate and manage fleets as small as one or two aircraft up to hundreds of aircraft. These programs are best viewed as a means of obtaining a partial interest in a particular aircraft, combined with a mechanism for sharing in all of the aircraft the fractional management company operates. All operations are arranged and managed by the Program Manager who is part of the Fractional Management Company. This results in a very sophisticated system that offers first class travel.
When the aircraft in which the fractional owner has an interest is not available for the owner's use at a particular time, the Program Manager may provide a different aircraft from the Program Manager’s pool of aircraft. If an aircraft from the Program Manager’s aircraft pool is not available, generally, the Program Manager will obtain an aircraft from an outside source. The Program Manager is responsible for all of the services requiring aviation expertise, including pilot selection, crew training, aircraft maintenance, flight planning, flight dispatch, and scheduling. The Program Manager’s job is to ensure that operating and safety standards are met.
Usually, the Program Manager will initially own or lease the aircraft used in its program. The Program Manager will then sell undivided interests of a fraction of the aircraft to buyers. Fractional ownership begins with a one-sixteenth share of a jet aircraft. The one-sixteenth share of ownership typically entitles the purchaser to 50 hours of aircraft usage per year. Fractional ownership shares of a rotorcraft may be as small as one-thirty-second of the rotorcraft. In some situations, a parent or related company of the Program Manager will manufacture the aircraft and sell the fractional share of the aircraft to the prospective customers of the Program Manager.
Costs and Fees
Under a Fractional Program the same financial model for accounting for aircraft costs is generally used. Payments fall under four categories:
- The share acquisition cost,
- The aircraft management fee,
- An occupied hourly charge, and
- Other miscellaneous charges.
Share Acquisition Cost
The share acquisition cost reflects the purchase price of the shareowner‘s portion of the aircraft. For example, a quarter share owner will pay 25 percent of the price of the aircraft. The aircraft price, called the sticker price, could be at the wholesale, retail, retail-plus price, or anywhere in between. The Program Manger typically agrees to repurchase the fractional owner’s share at the end of the fractional ownership term for the fair market value of the aircraft, less a remarketing fee.
An aircraft is offered for fractional ownership at the price of $ 4 million. A share of the aircraft is equal to 1/16th of the aircraft and is sold at the share acquisition cost of $ 250,000. If Corporation A purchases 4 shares, they will own 1/4th of the aircraft (4 shares times 1/16 per share equals ¼ of aircraft) and have a total share acquisition cost of $1 million (4 shares times $250,000 acquisition cost per share equals $1,000,000 total acquisition cost).
Aircraft Management Fee
The aircraft management fee is typically paid to the Program Manager on a monthly basis. The amount paid depends upon the type and cost of the aircraft owned along with the size and number of shares owned. The aircraft management fee is charged to cover fixed costs such as pilot and crew salaries, insurance, and other known scheduling costs. Since contract terms can last five years or more, most programs include fee increase clauses based upon a function of the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
Once Corporation A purchases its 4 shares of the aircraft, it contracts with the Program Manager to provide all services related to the aircraft. The Program Manager has determined that a fee of $1,000 per share will be charged monthly for the time under the program management contract. Therefore, Corporation A will pay $ 4,000 per month (4 shares times $1,000 per month) for the aircraft management fee for each month that it is under contract with the Program Manager for the aircraft services.
Occupied Hourly Rate
The occupied hourly rate is the amount paid for each hour of flight time used. The fuel consumed per hour of flight time and the required maintenance costs are the biggest contributors to the amount of the fee charged per hour. The fractional owners pay for the time the aircraft is used from takeoff to landing, with some programs adding time (typically 1/10 hour) before takeoff and after landing to compensate for time spent on the ground to taxi to and from the runway. Most programs have a minimum flight time of one hour. The occupied hourly rate is often increased on an annual basis computed based on a function of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). There is also a separate adjustment for the price of fuel should fuel costs change.
When flying their aircraft, Corporation A is charged an hourly usage of $ 4,500 per hour. In flying from Minneapolis, MN, to Los Angeles, CA, the plane was in the air for 3.5 hours. Per contract, an additional one-tenth (1/10th ) of an hour is charged for taxiing to take-off and from landing. Therefore, for the flight noted, Corporation A is charged $ 16,650 (3.7 hours times $ 4,500 per hour).
Other Miscellaneous Charges
In addition to the above charges, there will be miscellaneous expenses charged with each flight which are specific to that particular flight. Examples of these types of charges include:
- Pilot costs for hotel and meals for layovers
- Airport landing fees
- Airport hangar fees or parking fees
- Catering charges
Each of these charges, as well as any additional charges, will be billed separately to the fractional aircraft owner, usually with the monthly aircraft management fee and the occupied hourly rate.
Taxability of Fees
In Executive Jet Aviation Inc. v. United States, the courts decided that a Fractional Program Manager was providing a taxable service under section 4261. The court did not address everything that could be considered part of the tax base. Cite: Executive Jet Aviation Inc. v. United States, 123 F.3d 1463 (1997 C.A. Fed), 80 A.F.T.R.2d 97-6502. What constitutes an “amount paid” for taxable transportation is discussed in Rev. Rul. 74-123. In computing the transportation tax, the “amount paid” to the Program Manager includes not only the money actually paid by the owners, but also the value of the use of the aircraft provided by the owner. Cite: Rev. Rul. 74-123, 1974-1 C.C. 318. Therefore, all amounts paid by the fractional aircraft owner to the Program Manager are considered to be taxable unless they are specifically exempted by the Code and separately stated to the fractional aircraft owner and in the records of the Program Manager. An example of such an expense is catering fees for meals provided during the flight.
Four key agreements, also known as operative agreements, form the foundation of most fractional programs. These agreements are entered into at the time that the aircraft fractional share is purchased. The agreements can be for a number of years or be renewed on an annual basis. In all cases, each agreement will have a clause which will allow the parties an ability to cancel the agreement early as long as a cancellation fee and proper notice is made to the other party.
Operative agreements include the following:
- An Aircraft Purchase Agreement or dry lease agreement,
- A Management Agreement with the Program Manager,
- An Owners Agreement, with the other party or parties holding an interest in the same aircraft, and
- A Master Interchange Agreement with other aircraft owners in the program.
Note: In some programs the Owners Agreement and Master Interchange Agreement may be one and the same.
Aircraft Purchase Agreement
Under an Aircraft Purchase Agreement, the purchaser receives a bill of sale conveying title for their fraction of a specific program aircraft. Although the purchaser is entitled to inspect the aircraft, they are not permitted to place their own insignia on either the interior or exterior of the aircraft. The purchaser also agrees not to sell or otherwise transfer its interest in the aircraft, except to an affiliate of the purchaser, without the consent of the Program Manager.
When a transfer is proposed, the Program Manager’s consent is contingent upon the “new purchaser” assuming all of the original purchaser’s obligations. The purchaser has the option to sell its aircraft interest back to the Program Manager, usually at a value which is noted in the aircraft purchase agreement. In addition, if the purchaser still retains its interest in the aircraft at the end of a period stated within the contract (for example, at the end of 5 years), the Program Manager can initiate action to repurchase the purchaser’s interest in the aircraft after providing a written notice to the purchaser. During the period that the Operative Agreements are in place, the purchaser is entitled to flight time on the aircraft in proportion to its fractional share in the aircraft.
Although traditional Fractional Programs require the purchase of an interest in an aircraft, recent programs have evolved which allow purchasers to dry lease a fractional share of an aircraft. Under the dry lease, the aircraft is leased to the lessee by the ultimate owner of the aircraft, without a crew. The lessee then transfers possession, command, and control of the aircraft to the Program Manager who provides the pilot, crew, and other items necessary for operation of the aircraft.
The second agreement to be signed by the parties is a Management Agreement. Under the Management Agreement, the Program Manager is appointed by the fractional owner to manage the fractional owner’s share of their aircraft. In addition, the Program Manager assumes full responsibility for maintenance and operation of the aircraft. Specific services provided by the Program Manager include:
- Inspection, service, repair, overhaul, and testing the aircraft in order to maintain its airworthiness certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA),
- Maintaining records, logs, and other materials required by the FAA with respect to the aircraft,
- Purchasing fuel,
- Payment of hangar and tie-down costs, landing fees, in-flight food and beverages, flight planning, weather contract services, and the salary and travel expenses of the crew.
- Providing a pool of professionally qualified pilots who are licensed to operate the aircraft.
- Obtaining and maintaining aircraft hull and liability insurance.
Each of the above expenses are incurred by the Program Manager at its own cost and expense and are passed on to the fractional owner through the monthly management fees, occupied hourly rate, or the other miscellaneous fees noted previously. In return for the program manager’s services, the aircraft fractional owner agrees to make the aircraft in which they own or lease an interest available to other participants. In addition, the aircraft fractional owner agrees to pay the fees noted above in Costs and Fees.
Excise Tax Responsibility
Generally, the Management Agreement also spells out the responsibility of the payment of federal air transportation excise taxes. Under fractional ownership, the purchaser of the aircraft fraction contracts with the Program Manager to operate the aircraft and provide the pilots. Upon doing so, the possession, command, and control of the aircraft transfers to the Program Manager. Therefore, the Program Manager is responsible for collecting the taxes imposed by section 4261, remitting the tax to the Government, and filing the Form 720 to report the tax. The fractional purchaser is the true taxpayer and is responsible for paying the federal excise tax along with any additional amounts assessed at a later date.
The third key document, the Owner’s Agreement, allows for sharing of the aircraft between the fractional owners of that aircraft. The document serves as a contract between all owners of an individual serial-numbered aircraft. The Owners Agreement enumerates each fractional owner’s fractional ownership and notes that the relationship of the fractional owners with respect to the aircraft is that of tenants-in-common. Pursuant to the Owners Agreement, each Participant is required to place their aircraft into an Exchange Program which enables each Participant to have access to the aircraft on a first-come, first-served basis.
Master Interchange Agreement
In addition to the owner’s agreement, the aircraft will be placed into the aircraft pool of the Program Manager. The placement of the aircraft into the pool is generally accomplished by the execution of a Master Interchange Agreement or a dry lease agreement.
The Master Interchange Agreement or dry lease agreement, herein referred to as the Master Interchange Agreement, executed by each fractional owner indicates that the fractional owners wish to have the Program Manager provide administrative services to enable the fractional owner to share their aircraft with other fractional owners. In addition, the fractional owner will be able to use any other aircraft in the Program Manager’s aircraft pool. The Master Interchange Agreement provides that each fractional owner is entitled to the use of other aircraft on a first-come, first-served basis. The use of other aircraft in the program pool only occurs when the fractional owner is unable to use his own aircraft. No charge is levied against the fractional owner for using another aircraft in the pool unless the fractional owner requests a substitute aircraft that has a higher value than the fractional owner’s aircraft.
Note: Although each of the agreements described above list specific items that may be contained within the agreement, it is imperative that the actual contracts for the specific Fractional Program be reviewed and analyzed to develop the relevant facts of the case.
Issue of Possession, Command, and Control
The issue of whether the owners have surrendered possession, command, and control of the aircraft to the fractional management company must be addressed. The nature of the rights surrendered by the fractional owner must be weighed against the nature of the rights retained by the fractional owner in order to determine whether the fractional management company is providing taxable transportation. Reference Taxability of Fees above for a discussion of the taxability of the various fees imposed in fractional ownership.
As a general matter, amounts paid for taxable transportation to an entity that has possession, command, and control of the aircraft are taxable under section 4261. The entity that controls the pilot of an aircraft, such as the lessor under a “wet lease” arrangement, has possession, command, and control of the aircraft. Cite: Rev. Rul. 60-311, 1960-2 C.B. 341.
Consistent with these concepts, Rev. Rul. 58-215 holds that a corporate aircraft owner, who contracted with an airline company for the operation and maintenance of the aircraft, but retained exclusive control over the aircraft crew, was not being provided taxable transportation by the airline company under section 4261. Cite: Rev. Rul. 58-215, 1958-1 C.B. 439. In contrast, Rev. Rul. 74-123 concludes that where an aviation company provided air transportation for a federal agency on aircraft owned by the agency, the service provided by the company when it used agency planes was essentially the same service provided by the company when it used its own aircraft. Thus, in both situations under Rev. Rul. 74-123, the company was providing taxable air transportation. Cite: Rev. Rul. 74-123, 1974-1 C.B. 318.
The conclusions in Rev. Rul. 58-215 and Rev. Rul. 74-123 are not inconsistent because they are based on different factual situations. Although in both rulings title to the aircraft remained with the entity whose personnel were being transported, the aircraft management company in Rev. Rul. 58-215 was acting as the aircraft owner's agent in the operation of the aircraft, and the owner had exclusive control of the pilots, maintained insurance, and paid the operating expenses of the aircraft. However, in Rev. Rul. 74-123, the aircraft management company was acting as a principal in providing air transportation to the federal agency. The aircraft management company provided the aircraft crew and support personnel and was responsible under the contract for operations, maintenance, and insurance expenses. The provision of the air transportation service to the federal agency when the agency-owned aircraft were used was essentially the same as when company-owned aircraft were used.
Generally, fractional aircraft owners are required to purchase or lease undivided interests in an aircraft. The Operative Agreements executed at the time of purchase effectively allow the Program Manager to treat the program aircraft as part of a charter fleet. The Program Manager supplies the pilots for the aircraft and ensures they maintain the training necessary to pilot the aircraft; therefore, the Program Manager has command over the pilots. Even though, in some cases, the owners may designate which pilots they prefer, the Program Manager has ultimate control over assignment of crews.
In addition, the Program Manager is responsible for operations, maintenance, and insurance expenses of an aircraft. If an aircraft in which a fractional aircraft owner has an interest is not available for the fractional aircraft owner’s use at a particular time, then under the Management Agreement and the Master Interchange Agreement, the Program Manager may provide another aircraft from the fractional program. If no aircraft is available from the fractional program, the Program Manager must provide the fractional aircraft owner with the use of a suitable and comparable replacement aircraft from another source. Because of the complexities with scheduling fractional aircraft owners on their own aircraft, it is not uncommon for a fractional aircraft owner to fly infrequently on its own aircraft.
Given all of the circumstances, including the preconditioned Operative Agreements and the respective responsibilities of the parties, the fractional aircraft owners, although title holders to their aircraft, have relinquished possession, command, and control of their respective aircraft to the Program Manager. Therefore, the Program Manager is providing taxable air transportation of persons under section 4261.
As a result, all amounts paid for taxable transportation to the Program Manager, by the fractional aircraft owners, must be included in the tax base for computing the taxes under section 4261. The amounts paid include the share acquisition cost, monthly aircraft management fee, the occupied hourly rate, and other miscellaneous charges. Rev. Rul. 60-311 held that the total payment for transportation service included not only cash payments but also payments in kind. Therefore, where a company receiving transportation service supplies the carrier with items that represent necessary elements of transportation, such as gas, oil, lubricants, equipment, or insurance, such items are considered to be payments for transportation. Cite: Rev. Rul. 60-311, 1960-2 C.B. 341..
Program Managers have argued that the fees paid by fractional aircraft owners are not costs of transporting persons for compensation or hire, but instead are defraying certain administrative costs and costs associated with aircraft ownership by the fractional aircraft owners. In some cases, the Program Manger is receiving the fees from the fractional aircraft owners as a principal that is providing air transportation for hire, and not as an agent of the owners. Compare Rev. Rul. 58-215, 1958-1 C.B. 439. The services provided by the Program Manager are directly related to the provision of air transportation; therefore, all amounts paid by the fractional aircraft owners to the Program Manager for the services are taxable.
Pursuant to section 49.4261-2(c) of the Facilities and Services Excise Taxes Regulations, charges for non-transportation services may be excluded in computing the tax payable. Accordingly, any portion of the fees paid to the Program Manager for the costs of meals, passenger use of telephone or facsimile services, and limousine or ground handling services, which are attributable to amounts paid for non-transportation services, may be excluded in computing the transportation tax, provided those amounts are separable from the amounts attributable to taxable transportation and the Program Manager's records show the exact amounts.
In conclusion, as provided in Rev. Rul. 74-123, when computing the transportation tax under section 4261, the “amount paid” includes all amounts paid by the fractional aircraft owners to the Program Manager. Non-transportation charges are excludable if they are separable from the amounts shown for air transportation and the Program Manager’s records show the exact amount of the charge.
The following techniques are neither all-inclusive nor mandatory. Rather, they are suggested techniques to assist in an examination of a fractional management company. In looking at a filed Form 720, there is not a way to distinguish fractional management companies from other taxable air transporters. Therefore, the examination is to start with the steps noted below:
- Review the Form 720. Determine the abstracts on which the tax is reported. For instance, if tax is reported only on abstract #026, be alert to the possibility that multiple abstracts are combined into one line entry on the Form 720;
- Review the Form 720, Schedule C, for the types of fuel claims. Be aware to the possibility that fuel claims may be combined on one line;
- Review Form 720, Schedule A, for the method of tax deposits used. It is not unusual for a taxpayer to report under the regular method when in fact they are using the alternative method. The alternative method is much simpler to use and normally the accounting systems can be set up to track the excise tax under that system. The regular method requires greater detail and many accounting systems are not set up to efficiently track the excise tax as it is collected. The regular method generally requires the taxpayer track collections on separate workpapers of some sort;
- Perform an Internet search on the taxpayer to determine the kinds of services provided. Most charter and aircraft management companies have elaborate websites which describe the types of services provided in detail. In some cases, the amount of potential underpayment may be forecasted using the information provided on the website;
- Go to the FAA.gov website and search for any aircraft the taxpayer may own along with the type of operator’s certificates they may have;
- Do a search on Accurint to secure basic information about the taxpayer.
During the initial contact, verify that the Taxpayer is a fractional management company. A list of questions which can be asked during the initial contact are noted below:
- Types of services offered.
- For instance; do they offer international flights?
- Do they offer transportation of property?
- Additional service offered.
- Do they act as a management company for other nonfractional aircraft?
- Do they have a fleet of aircraft that the fractional management company owns?
- Are these aircraft chartered to customers?
- What type of certificate do the aircraft operate under? Usually, the fractional aircraft will operate under a Part 135 certificate or a Part 91 certificate.
- How many aircraft operate under each type of certificate?
At this point an appointment letter and initial IDR can be prepared. The following items are to be requested to be available at the initial appointment:
- Copies of any workpapers used to prepare the return.
- A copy of the chart of accounts. The chart of accounts will provide clues into accounts that may be taxable but are being missed by the Program Manager.
- A written narrative of how it accounts for and tracks FET along with the persons responsible for each function. In addition, a flow chart of the process from the time a ticket or charter is quoted and purchased to the report that shows the tax due can be requested.
- Obtain an explanation of how the program determines what charges are taxed and what charges are not taxed.
- Obtain a sample of the reports which detail the various charges taxed.
- Obtain copies of the operating flight documents.
- Obtain a list of the fractional owners. This list should include the date each owner purchased or entered the program along with when each owner sold their interest or quit the program. The list should show the amount paid for each interest, the aircraft tail number, and the amount received for their interest at the end of the ownership term.
- If the taxpayer is not collecting the excise tax on the management fees, obtain a list of owners who have paid the fees, the dates the fees were paid, along with the amount of fee paid.
- Obtain an explanation of how the taxpayer accounts for all fuel purchased and used. How does the taxpayer determine the number of gallons of fuel that has been taxed and how do they determine the rate at which it is taxed? How did they determine the gallons of fuel used for foreign trade in addition to the number of gallons used for other tax-exempt purposes?
Commercial Airlines and Scheduled Flights
Along with the activities of corporate and privately owned aircraft, regional and major airlines are in the business of transporting persons by air. These entities collect and remit the bulk of the reported transportation of persons by air excise taxes. Due to their size and volume of passenger traffic, major and regional airlines have issues which are unique to their operations.
Accounting for the Tax
The major commercial airlines compute the tax for air transportation using a network of computer terminals called a “computer reservations system.” Two such systems used by the airlines are the SABRE system and the APOLLO system. An individual carrier's sales accounting system merely extracts the passenger's tax liability from the “auditor's coupon” lifted from the carrier's ticket stock based on its individual recording procedures. Because airline tickets are usually sold in advance, the revenue, recognized at the time of the flight, does not coincide with the passenger's tax liability, which is recorded when the ticket is purchased.
In order to track taxes imposed on customers, airlines use tax codes which are noted on the receipt for the airline purchase provided to the customer. The tax codes used are as follows:
|US||7.5% domestic tax or international departure and arrival fees. Also includes the 7.5% domestic tax and the international departure and arrival fees imposed on flights to and from Alaska and Hawaii.|
|ZP||US flight segment tax|
|XT||Combined taxes/user fees – this code is used when the number of taxes collected exceeds the number of tax boxes on the ticket. A breakdown of the taxes and user fees are to be shown in the fare calculation area of the ticket.|
|Other Non-tax Codes|
|YC||US Customs Fee: $5.00 for tickets issued before April 1, 2007. $5.50 for tickets issued on or after April 1, 2007|
|XY||Immigration Fee: $7.00 for travel from an international point into the US or its possessions.|
|XA||Agricultural Inspection Fee|
|XF||Passenger Facility Charges|
|AY||US Security Service Fee|
An airline which issues its own tickets is said to issue its own “ticket stock”. In the case of a regional or feeder airline, a determination of who maintains the ticket stock and issues the tickets is important. Regional and feeder airlines that are fully controlled by a major airline will have their tickets issued through the major airline’s ticket stock. Therefore, the major airline will be responsible for collecting and remitting the section 4261 taxes. The regional airline will not have this responsibility and will not have a reporting history for air transportation excise taxes.
Carriers operate under two primary “interline agreements,” which cover passenger ticketing, cargo, and baggage procedures. Interline agreements specify the source of accepted published fares and describe the process of settling funds between participating airlines. Interline agreements are established in order to simplify the ticketing process and minimize the number of tickets necessary to complete an itinerary that involves more than one air carrier.
Settlement between the carriers for revenue earned is either processed (1) through an “interline clearinghouse,” such as the Airline Reporting Corporation (ARC), or (2) directly between the involved parties for providing travel services on tickets sold by other carriers. Currently, airlines do not “interline settle” U.S. taxes. The liability for air transportation tax is normally recorded by each individual carrier's accounting system. Carriers remit the transportation tax on the basis of their ticket stock sales. If a ticket is used on another airline, that airline bills the selling airline for only the fare, not the air transportation tax.
Discounted and Free Fares
Airlines offer free air transportation tickets to their employees as a part of the employee’s benefits. Discounted fares offered to airline employees are subject to the applicable taxes under section 4261 or 4271 for any amount paid. If no amount is paid by the employee for the ticket, then no tax is imposed under section 4261 or 4271.
Every person who refunds any amount with respect to a ticket or order that was purchased without payment of the air transportation tax must deduct from the amount refundable, to the extent available, any tax due as a result of the use of a portion of the transportation purchased in connection with the ticket or order and must report the amount of any remaining uncollected tax to the IRS. Cite: IRC § 4263(b).
If a passenger cancels his ticket, Rev. Rul. 89-109, 1989-2 C.B. 232 holds that to the extent an airline refunded to a passenger the amount paid for air transportation, the collected transportation tax attributable to the amount of the refund should also be refunded to the passenger. However, to the extent that the airline did not refund the amount paid for air transportation to the passenger, the collected transportation tax attributable to the nonrefunded amount should have been remitted by the airline to the IRS. The same result would apply to a situation in which a carrier allowed the passenger a refund by credit rather than by cash, or if an airline offered a discount fare program under which it refunded less than the full purchase price in the event of cancellation of the ticket by the customer. But see United Airlines, Inc. v. U.S., 929 F.Supp. 1122 (N.D.Ill. Jun 27, 1996), aff’d 111 F.3d 551 (7th Cir.1997) (criticizing Rev. Rul. 89-109 and concluding that amounts retained by the airline as penalties or service charges for canceled tickets are amounts paid for taxable transportation).
Frequent Flyer Miles
The percentage tax applies to any amount paid to an air carrier or related person, whether in cash or in kind, for the right to award free or reduced rate air transportation. Cite: IRC § 4261(e)(3). An example of this type of transaction is when a credit card company purchases miles from a carrier for the right to award the frequent flyer miles to its customers as a premium.
Examples of taxable amounts include:
- Payments for frequent flyer miles purchased by credit card companies, telephone companies, rental car companies, television networks, restaurants and hotels, and other businesses for distribution to their customers and others; and
- Amounts received by airlines pursuant to joint venture credit card or other marketing arrangements. Cite: Conference Committee Report on P.L. 105-34.
The percentage tax is computed based on the gross amount paid for the frequent flyer miles. No bifurcation or division of the amounts paid between the frequent flyer miles and costs such as marketing is allowed. Should an issue concerning the bifurcation, or division, of frequent flyer mile purchases occur, please contact the Air Transportation EIS or the Policy Analyst assigned to Air Transportation Taxes for assistance.
The rules for applying the section 4261(a) tax under section 4261(e)(3) to amounts paid for the right to provide mileage awards are set out in Notice 2002-63, 2002-2 C.B. 644:
- Amounts paid for mileage awards that cannot be redeemed for taxable transportation beginning and ending in the United States are not subject to tax. For purposes of this rule, mileage awards issued by a foreign air carrier are considered to be usable only on that foreign air carrier and thus not redeemable for taxable transportation beginning and ending in the United States. Therefore, amounts paid to a foreign air carrier for mileage awards are not subject to tax.
- Amounts paid by an air carrier to a domestic air carrier for mileage awards that can be redeemed for taxable transportation are not subject to tax to the extent those miles will be awarded in connection with the purchase of taxable transportation.
- Amounts paid by an air carrier to a domestic air carrier for mileage awards that can be redeemed for taxable transportation are subject to tax to the extent those miles will not be awarded in connection with the purchase of taxable transportation.
Rev. Rul. 2002-60, 2002-2 C.B. 641, addresses the application of section 4261(e)(3) to exchanges of mileage awards between a foreign air carrier (Z) and a domestic air carrier. Under Rev. Rul. 2002-60, the value of the mileage awards transferred by Z is subject to tax, because none of the mileage awards will be provided to Z’s customers in connection with the purchase of taxable transportation. Cites: Notice 2002-63, 2002-2 C.B. 644; Rev. Rul. 2002-60, 2002-2 C.B. 641.
Air Carrier Liability
Although air carriers are responsible for collection and remitting commercial air transportation taxes, liability for the tax is imposed on passengers. However, if the person paying for the taxable air transportation fails to pay the tax for any reason, the liability for the applicable section 4261 taxes is imposed on the air carrier providing the initial segment of air transportation which begins or ends in the United States. Cite: IRC § 4263(c). Note: Air carrier liability does not apply to the tax on amounts collected for the transportation of property under section 4271.
The activities of major and regional airlines create the potential for issues that are the same as other air transportation providers and ones that are unique to the industry. Potential issues with major and regional airlines include:
- Adjustments under Part III of the Form 720 may contain credits for excise tax that was not refunded to the customer per IRC § 6415.
- Passenger tickets may not include all taxable items for computing the excise tax; in other words, certain charges may have been excluded from the tax base.
- Barter transactions with sports organizations, etc., may be structured so that no tax is collected.
- Amounts paid by credit card companies, banks, etc., for the right to award free or reduced-price air transportation (frequent flyer miles) are subject to excise tax.
- Excise tax may not have been charged on Government or military contracts.
- Ticket upgrades or exchanges may not include the additional tax.
The following list of examination techniques is designed to assist the field examiner in working a regional or major airline.
- In examinations of large companies, note that most are publicly held and issue annual reports to their stockholders. Reviewing these reports for 1 or more years will provide important information about the taxpayers.
- Review the Securities and Exchange Commission form 10K (annual report and related documentation) if the form is required to be filed.
- Review newsletters issued by large companies. These newsletters are valuable tools for learning about changes in company functions and everyday business practices. Large companies may also produce trade magazines or other publications.
- Interview tax managers and individuals who deal with the daily operations of the aircraft, such as chief pilots, maintenance personnel and scheduling agents, when appropriate. In Coordinated Examination cases, who you can interview may be limited and will need to be cleared through the Income Tax Case Coordinator. Ensure all disclosure rules are followed.
- Review historical examination information for income and excise tax issues. Review the number of aircraft, related entities and both the income tax and excise tax files for excise tax issues other than air transportation.
- Review the ARC's Industry Agent's Handbook, which details ticketing procedures, including refunds and exchanges.
- Take a tour of the airline ticket accounting department and discuss procedures and coding with those responsible for accounting for the information.
- Request consolidated workpapers used to prepare Form 720. Reconcile the total passenger transportation tax collected per book to the tax on the Form 720 to verify that all tax collected has been remitted. Explain discrepancies.
- Reconcile adjustment items on Form 720 to verify that the airline is entitled to the adjustment. Review corresponding accounts for blind credits.
- Review the general ledger and question the nontaxed revenue accounts to verify that the accounts do not contain taxable passenger revenue.
- Review liability accounts, paying attention to all sources of tax, especially any unusual debits to the account. Reconcile the liability at the end of the last quarter to ensure that the accrued liability is correct.
- Review any charter or tour operation of the airline to verify that the tax calculated is correct.
- Review a sampling of tickets issued under various taxable situations using the ARC Industry Agent's Handbook to verify that the tax was calculated correctly per ticket. (Request a current copy of the handbook from the airline.)
- Verify that exemptions were not granted to state and local governments, the United States and its possessions, diplomats, or nonprofit educational organizations.
- Sample revenue accounts by analyzing lifted tickets, refunds, exchanges, upgrades, etc. to verify that the applicable excise tax has been collected.
- Airlines may make tax deposits based on amounts considered as collected (the “alternative method”) under Excise Tax Procedural Regulations § 40.6302(c)-3, and make adjustments the next month. Verify that the correct adjustment has been made and determine that the amounts considered as collected are accurate.
- Review all refund claims (Form 8849, or Form 843, Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement; and Form 4136). Request supporting workpapers and verify that each claim is allowable.
- Request supporting workpapers for adjustments under Part III of the Form 720 for alternative method taxpayers.