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  • 179 Expensing Election of $500,000; phase out starts when equipment purchases exceed $2,000,000.
  • 50% Bonus depreciation for factory new equipment


In a welcome display of good governance, Congress this year has largely broken its recent routine of allowing important tax incentives to expire with the start of each new year, only to retroactively reinstate those provisions as year-end approaches—leaving taxpayers during the interim on tenterhooks, guessing what tax laws they will be subject to. A tax package signed into law on December 18 not only establishes rules for 2015, but also gives certainty on important items for at least the next five years. Two tax incentives that are of particular value to the general aviation industry are Bonus Depreciation and §179 Expensing. The bill’s likely effect on these provisions is described below.


50% Bonus Depreciation

Under the Bonus Depreciation rules, purchases of new aircraft, as well as purchases of new equipment installed in used aircraft, are eligible for an accelerated bonus-depreciation allowance in the year they are placed in service. For tax years 2015, 2016, and 2017, the bonus-depreciation allowance will be 50% of the cost; this reduces to 40% in 2018, 30% in 2019, and is phased out thereafter (although some 2020 acquisitions may qualify, where a written binding purchase contract was in place before 2020). The additional first-year depreciation deduction is allowable both for regular income tax purposes and alternative minimum tax. Aircraft eligible for bonus depreciation must be new, used primarily for qualified business purposes, and meet other tests necessary to qualify for depreciation under the modified accelerated cost recovery system (MACRS). Bonus depreciation excludes property acquired under written binding contracts in effect prior to January 1, 2008. Special rules may apply to agricultural and firefighting aircraft.

Bonus depreciation is generally limited to factory-new property. In calculating cost eligible for bonus depreciation, a taxpayer may include the cost of installation, inspection, certification, and the like. If refurbished equipment includes both new and used components, the entire cost may be subject to bonus depreciation if less than 20% of the total value is attributable to the used component/s.


Section 179 Expensing Election Retroactively Enhanced and Made Permanent

The expensing election, which is available to both new and used business property, is in addition to the bonus depreciation allowance, and can benefit businesses which engage in eligible investments of less than $2,500,000 within the year. The expensing allows a taxpayer to write-off up to $500,000 of equipment, but in no case more than the taxpayer’s income. Further, the available write-off decreases dollar-for-dollar to the extent that the taxpayer’s total investment in qualifying property for the year exceeds $2,000,000. The major advantage of the expensing election over bonus depreciation is its availability for used property.

 Ordering of Deductions

When both bonus depreciation and Section 179 expensing are available and desired, the deductions are calculated by applying Section 179 first, followed by bonus depreciation, and last the regular depreciation allowance.

Example: New non-commercial aircraft placed in service within the first three quarters of the year by a taxpayer able to use the Section 179 deduction:

Aircraft Cost:  



179 Deduction: $300,000 ($500,000 reduced by ($2,200,000-$2,000,000))
Bonus Depreciation: $950,000 (50% of ($2,200,000 – $300,000))
Ordinary Depreciation: $190,000 (20% (the normal first-year depreciation amount, the remainder of $2,200,000-$300,000-$950,000                                                   
Total Yr. 1 Write-Off: $1,440,000  
% of Purchase Price: 65%  



Although Congress has encouraged investment in new equipment through these incentive provisions, taxpayers must exercise extreme care to sustain the deductions under IRS scrutiny. The IRS has a number of tools at its disposal to claw back tax savings so graciously provided by the legal tax incentives. Careful adherence to the myriad use, structuring, and recordkeeping requirements is particularly important where taxpayers expect to receive large tax benefits in a given year. It is critical to consult with a qualified expert, not only on whether a particular transaction qualifies for the incentives, but also on whether associated tax rules may take away benefits the incentive programs may have made available. This article is merely an overview of the topic, and not necessarily comprehensive.

December 19, 2015

Jonathan Levy, Esq.

Legal Advisor

Advocate Consulting Legal Group, PLLC is a law firm whose practice is limited to serving the needs of aircraft owners and operators relating to issues of income tax, sales tax, federal aviation regulations, and other related organizational and operational issues.

Tax Disclosure. Any tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under tax laws, or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein.

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