Monday, February 1, 2010

Filing Taxes, Aviation Style

I have an accountant. I know it sounds silly for someone who doesn’t belong in a high-income bracket to have an accountant. The $100 I pay him, however, usually results in a beautiful tax refund. Most people can easily file their taxes themselves and get a great refund. Pilots, on the other hand, should consider getting some extra help.

Airline and corporate pilots have a lot of business expenses that can add up over time. Obviously expenses such as hotel rooms the night before a trip (or crashpad rent) can be written off as a business expense, but have you thought about all the other incidentals that add up over time? Here’s a short list of the things I’ve learned over time I should keep receipts and records of. It’s not all-inclusive, obviously, but maybe it will get you some extra money back on your taxes this year!

- Uniforms: all those pilot shirts, metal shank-less shoes, trenchcoats, etc. can amount to a huge deduction.
- Van driver tips: on an average 4 day trip you could pay $7-10 to the driver taking you to the hotel and airport. 4 or 5 trips a month starts to add up! You don’t need a receipt from the van driver. I have a flight crew log (seen here) that I use to write down my OOOI (out-off-on-in, or your block/flight times) and also has spots for recording tips/meals.
- Speaking of meals: eating on the road is EXPENSIVE. You’re basically going to drop $20-30 on food every night, depending on where you’re staying that night. Keep those receipts, plus the ones from buying soda and snacks at the airport.
- Those Rx Serengeti’s? They’re expensive. And you probably wouldn’t have them if you weren’t flying 80 hours a month.
- Checkrides. My CFI checkride cost $300. CFII: $400. Get a receipt from your designated examiner.
- Last but not least – mileage. All those miles you spend driving to the airport add up to wear and tear on your car, not to mention gas. Keep track of those trips to and from the airport. Also if you’re paying for employee parking at the airport, keep the receipts from buying your parking passes. I have paid anywhere from $35-50 a month for employee parking.

I hope this gives you some ideas on getting the most back on your taxes. Just stay organized, I keep my receipts in a small file folder until tax time. Pilots spend a lot of time away from home and a lot of their own money in that time. There’s no reason to sacrifice more than you have to.