Whether to use chargebacks and how much of the aircraft costs to charge are important considerations in the management of a business aircraft. As chargebacks can drive utilization, tread carefully! 

A chargeback is an attempt to allocate the cost of providing the air transportation service to the departments those that use it. Whereas corporate functions such as legal, finance, or human resources are more or less equally spread throughout the company, the use of the aircraft is typically is not. In general, the business aircraft, due to its cost and limits to its availability, is restricted to providing air transportation to high value individuals or teams of individuals. How the use of the aircraft is restricted is fundamentally important key in deciding on a chargeback scheme.

If the aircraft is limited to a very small circle of senior executives, or even to one individual (e.g.,the CEO), then the cost of the aircraft can be allocated 100% to the the (C-level) headquarters budget. The total cost of the corporate headquarters function is then allocated to the various business units by a common method.

If the aircraft use is made available to different departments, divisions or subsidiaries, then some method of charging those business units for its the use of the aircraft may be appropriate. The general chargeback principle is that those who use the aircraft pay an equitable share for that the use of the aircraft. Chargebacks can range from a 100% reimbursement of all costs to something less than full cost recovery.

There are three considerations pertaining to as to the charge backs: method to be used:

  1. Metering: How much is utilization of the aircraft to be restricted? High chargeback rates will reduce the aircraft usage while low (or non-existent) chargebacks encourage aircraft usage.
  2. Consistency: Is there already an established protocol pattern at the corporate level for distributing other centralized costs? Can an existing policy may be applied to the aircraft?
  3. Relevance:  When using chargebacks, there must be an accurate accounting of the aircraft costs that supports the chargeback method.

According to the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), about 44% of its corporate members use chargebacks.  58.3% of companies with assets over USD $5 Billion use chargebacks.

Centralized Allocation Method

Some corporations combine all of the headquarters service costs, including to include the aircraft, and divide those costs among all the operating divisions using some sort of established formula. This method is the easiest to manage as the aircraft costs are combined with the other corporate functions and thus, require little additional accounting. It also accounts for 100% of the aircraft costs.

This method also places essentially a zero cost to non-headquarters business units that may use the aircraft. If those business units have access to the aircraft, this method encourages them to use the aircraft. Thus, a clear policy for who has access to the aircraft can schedule and use the aircraft, along with some sort of prioritization, is needed.

When allocating the aircraft costs in proportion to its use, the corporation can elect to recover all or a portion of the costs. Again, the higher the cost, the less likely a business unit is to use the aircraft.

Fully Loaded Cost Allocation

A fully loaded cost allocation is an attempt to allocate 100% of the aircraft costs among the users of the aircraft. If headquarters used the aircraft 67% of the time and sales, 33%, then sales should pay 33% of the aircraft budget.

Where this gets difficult is in budgeting and setting the rate. Rates can be by the hour, mile, or seat-mile. If the actual costs exceed the budget, how are the added costs to be recovered? Or, if costs are lower than budgeted, will funds be returned to the business units? Does the full allocation include depreciation of the aircraft or just its operating costs?

This method requires a clear understanding of the aircraft costs and an accurate budget.

Of NBAA member companies that use chargebacks, 16.9% of them use some form of fully loaded costs.

Operating Cost Allocation

The operating cost allocation involves some formula to cover the Variable Operating Costs (fuel, maintenance, etc) and the Fixed Operating Costs (crew salaries, hangar, insurance, training, etc). The options range from a percentage of the variable costs to recovering 100% of those the operating costs.

This chargeback method, which can be in the form of an hourly cost or a seat-mile cost,  also requires a clear understanding of the aircraft costs and an accurate budget.

Of NBAA member companies that use chargebacks:

  • 34.1% use a percentage of variable operating costs
  • 10.4% include a percentage of the fixed operating costs

This chargeback can be in the form of an hourly cost (if using the whole aircraft) or a seat-mile cost (if “buying” seats on a scheduled trip).

SIFL rates (United States)

In the US, the Internal Revenue Service uses Standard Industry Fare Levels in imputing the value of private air travel for non-business/personal use. These IRS SIFL rates can also be used for the chargeback cost of the business aircraft.  The IRS SIFL formula is based on distance and seats, not the actual cost of operating the aircraft.

Of NBAA member companies that use chargebacks, 23.3% of them use some form of SIFL valuations for their chargeback rates.

First Class Airfare

This chargeback avoids the requirements for detailed aircraft accounting and assigns a predetermined First Class Airfare cost to the use of the aircraft. This method works well for a scheduled shuttle where a business unit can buy seats versus using the whole aircraft.

Of NBAA member companies that use chargebacks, 3.6% of them use a form of First Class Airfare in their chargeback allocation.

There may be other formulas in use such as per mile allocations, an allocation of the depreciation of the aircraft, or a hybrid-mix of the above formulas. Regardless of methods used, the accounting records must reflect the chargebacks to all users of the aircraft.

A final note:  Business aircraft operate in the US under FAR Part 91 and are classified as noncommercial transportation, whereas Part 135 allows for commercial transportation for which compensation is collected.  However, the IRS may question the aircraft chargebacks and in some cases, may reallocate them during an audit. Care must be taken to avoid any action that either suggests or creates a separate company to provide air transportation services to the corporation unless that separate company holds a Part 135 certificate.  For corporations that own an aircraft for its own use, However, chargebacks are an acceptable way to allocate the use of the business aircraft among the company’s users.