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Place aircraft in service by 12/31 to capture 100 percent bonus depreciation

Finance | October 22, 2021 | max

By: Daniel Cheung

The business aviation industry is in an unprecedented period where demand for new and pre-owned aircraft is insatiable, and supply of planes are not keeping pace.  As most new production aircraft delivery positions for 2021 had been sold out for months,  pre-owned aircrafts may be the only available choices if one needs a business aircraft in 2021 for operational or tax reasons.  In the mad dash to the finish line for tax-motivated aircraft buyers of this year, it is important to be clear about how an aircraft is considered ‘placed in service’ to fulfill the tax planning strategy.

‘Placed in service’ is an important concept as it relates to the ability of a taxpayer to deduct depreciation of a business aircraft.  Internal Revenue Code regulations define ‘placed in service’ as when the property is “first placed in a condition or state of readiness and availability for a specifically assigned function” [Regs. Sec. 1.167(a)-(11)(e)(1)(i)]. Therefore, while having a legal title to the aircraft is the primary requirement to depreciating an asset, signing a purchase agreement, putting down a deposit, or even pre-paying for the entire aircraft are not sufficient to place the aircraft in service.  Flying an actual business flight would be placing the plane in service.  However, it is not an absolute requirement to place the aircraft in service either.  The key point is that the plane is available for its assigned function.  For example, if the plane sits in the hangar, ready for a flight, but bad weather prevents the flight from taking off – it can be argued that the plane is placed in service.  But would it be wise to arrange at least one business flight in December to positively prove that the aircraft is used for its assigned function?  Absolutely.

What about Green aircraft?  This is another concept that has come up in recent conversations with clients and aircraft sales folks.  A green aircraft may have an FAA airworthiness certificate issued and can officially “fly”.  However, it typically will not have the interior installed, or the exterior painted.  It will therefore be impossible to argue that a green aircraft will meet the requirement that the plane is available for a specifically assigned function of carrying passengers for business travels.

Identifying an aircraft to purchase that fits your mission and budget is the first of many tasks.  Locating a reputable maintenance shop to perform the pre-purchase inspection or securing financing are the next tasks.  Gathering a team to execute the acquisition and to implement an ownership structure that will meet the various tax and FAA requirements will be of utmost importance.   If your goal is to acquire a business aircraft in 2021 to capture 100% bonus depreciation, time is quickly running out to properly complete the acquisition.

Source: Daniel Cheung, Aviation Tax Consultants