Deducting use of plane for charity

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Have you found a defensible way, meaning using the tax code or court
precedent, to deduct the use of a plane for charitable use (that
also has some personal use)? An example would be search and rescue

-- John Kuder, March 12, 2010


If your passion is non-profit search and rescue work, the most logical thing to do would be start a 501c3 organization to do aerial search and rescue work. Then donate the airplane to the 501c3. Then donate money to the 501c3 to run the airplane. All of your donations to the charity should be deductible up to some fraction of your income (30%? ).

What if you want to make some personal use of the airplane? You could rent it from the charity at a fair market rate, e.g., the same price per hour as what local flight schools are charging.

-- Philip Greenspun, March 14, 2010

I am no attourney, accountant, or even instructor so check with your counsel, but you can deduct direct expenses (fuel, oil, parking, etc) for a charitable flight. Of course, there are two sets of folks to satisfy, the FAA and IRS. Recent IRS rules I believe limit you to 25% charitable use for a business aircraft, also. If your plane is not in an LLC, you would be wise to not use it for charity. I used my business aircraft for a United Way flight and wrote it off. Also, there are organizations like Angel Flight.

If you were to do S&R, you would need to have a charitable organization sign off on the gift somehow, like a volunteer fire service. Coast Guard Auxiliary has a CAP like program that reimburses you for approved flights based on your aircraft horsepower.

IMO, if you are doing it for the write off, you are likely better off not doing it. You likely will not save much money versus simply flying on your own dollar due to all the time and money spent trying to qualify for the program you want to use the plane for. Certainly, if you need this sort of thing to help pay for the plane, then you should likely rent a plane for charitable use and reduce your financial risk.

OTOH, if you simply want to combine your love of flying with your charitable goals, then go for it.

-- Eric Warren, March 13, 2010