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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Gray CPA

Airline Pilots IRS Tax




We always had a pilot or two in our client list but for some reason in 2024 we've become a pilot magnet, so here's a post on point.

 

Pilots know math and make calculations in order to fly aircraft.

The most common math skills pilots use are addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, for example, to add and subtract to calculate weight.

Pilots know basic geometry so as to be able to focus on shapes and spatial relationships between objects.

Third, basic trigonometry helps pilots understand wind corrections and crosswind calculations.

 

Pilot’s tax reporting also requires calculations not required of other professions.

 

To qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion, one’s tax home must be in a foreign country. If one is a flight crew member, this generally means that one’s tax home is one’s base station, the location of the airport from which one’s flights originate.

 

However, even if you are based in a foreign country, you are not considered to have a tax home in a foreign country for any period during which your abode is in the United States. The location of your abode is based on where you maintain your family, economic, and personal ties. Your abode is not necessarily in the United States merely because you maintain a dwelling in the United States, whether or not your spouse or dependents use the dwelling.

 

Example: A U.S. citizen flight crew member based at an airport in Chicago, but residing in Canada, will be determined to have a tax home in Chicago (regular or principal place of business). Alternatively, if the crew member is based at an airport in Canada, but maintains an abode in the U.S., the individual has an abode in the U.S.

 

A foreign country is any territory (including its airspace and territorial waters) under the sovereignty of a government other than the United States. The term "foreign country" does not include aircraft traveling above international waters.

 

Earned income is wages, salaries, professional fees, and other amounts received as compensation for personal services. To qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion, the income must be earned in a foreign country. The place where the services are performed determines whether the income is foreign, not the location of the employer or place of payment.

 

Example: if you are a U.S. citizen flight crew member, living and working abroad, receiving wages for services performed in Canada, those wages qualify as foreign earned income even if you are working for a U.S. airline who deposits your paycheck in a U.S. bank account.

 

Income earned for performing services as a flight crew member may need to be apportioned to the actual time spent performing services in a foreign country in order to properly determine the amount of foreign earned income.

 

Example: A U.S. citizen flight crew member based at an airport in Canada mostly works roundtrip flights from Canada to the United States. Income earned for providing services in Canada prior to departure and while flying in any other foreign country's airspace is foreign earned income. Income earned for services provided while the aircraft is flying over international waters, in U.S. airspace, and on the ground in the United States is not foreign earned income.

 

A flight crew member's earned income is based, in large part, on the services performed from the time the aircraft starts moving away from the gate for departure ("block out" time) until the time the aircraft stops at the gate upon arrival ("block in" time).

 

While the crew member's earned income is generally computed by the airline based on the actual flight or block time, all of the time spent providing required services (pre-flight, flight, post flight time, training, and other required services) must be accounted for when allocating earned income to the locations where it was earned.

 

Time basis is the method for allocating earned income between "foreign" and "other". Thus, if you are a flight crew member on international flights, you should be keeping as accurate a record of your hours of service as is possible. In order to compute the amount of your foreign earned income, you will need to compare your time for services performed in and over foreign countries o your total time spent performing services during the taxable year.

 

This comparison can be expressed by a fraction: total time worked in and over foreign countries divided by total time worked. Multiply that fraction by total wages earned to determine the amount of your foreign earned income (income earned in and over foreign countries, including their airspace and territorial waters).

 

Because flight time between two cities may vary based on the actual flight route, location of the jet stream, weather, and other factors, the most accurate way to determine the time spent in and over foreign countries is by using detailed records (flight plans) for each flight reflecting the flight's planned route and the planned flight time. The flight plan includes a lot of information about the flight, including the route designated by its latitude and longitude readings as well as the estimated flight time between those points. The flight plan will also show the total estimated flight time from the flight's block out to its block in. As a result, it is possible to plot the geographical points and determine the actual planned time spent flying over foreign countries.

 

Some crew members, however, may have difficulty securing and reading actual flight plans. Also, this process can be burdensome for crew members who fly a large number of international flights during the taxable year. As a result, airlines are providing crew members a breakdown reflecting the "average" flight time components of flight segments in and over foreign countries (sometimes called "Duty Time Apportionment" or "Flight Time Apportionment"). Per a Tax Court case, Rogers v. Commissioner (T.C. Memo 2009-111), these apportionments, if reasonable, are an acceptable way to determine the amount of foreign earned income.

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