Tax Deductions for Volunteer Pilots

Q. Can a volunteer pilot take a tax deduction for costs of flight?

A. Yes. FAA still considers it to be compensation, but has stated that it supports “truly humanitarian efforts” and will generally not treat charitable deductions related to public benefit flights as compensation or hire for the purposes of enforcing FAR 61.113 or Part 135. Additional information is linked below.[/expand]

Q. What can a volunteer pilot deduct?

A. Volunteer pilots should generally be able to deduct unreimbursed expenses made as a result of rendering services to an IRS recognized charitable organization. Expenses are generally limited to direct out-of-pocket expenses such as fuel and oil if you own the airplane and rental cost if you rent. [/expand]

Additional Reading

FAA Information Circulated to ACA and Affiliated Groups - 1993
FROM: Air Care Alliance


As discussed at the AIR CARE 93 conference, there has been concern about individuals taking a tax deduction for costs incurred in flying a public benefit flying mission. John Haverland of Angel Flight of Texas and we asked for clarification. The offices of FAA’s Tony Broderick, Associate Administrator for Regulations and Certification, and John Cassady, Acting Chief Counsel, collaborated and came up with a policy statement reflecting Chief Counsel’s position regarding this issue. Here is the policy statement to help guide you and your members:

Apr 23, 1993

“As a matter of policy, taking into consideration the fact that Congress has specifically provided for the tax deductibility of some costs of charitable acts, we will not treat charitable deduction of such costs, standing alone, as constituting “compensation or hire” for the purpose of enforcing [Paragraph] 61.118 or Part 135. If taking a charitable tax deduction for transporting persons or property is coupled with any reimbursement of expenses, or other compensation of any kind, then this policy does not apply.”

[Signed] John H. Cassady FAA Acting Chief Counsel

FAA Opinion Concerning Tax Deduction Issue - 1995

Background: In late 1994 and early 1995 a message circulated on the Internet stating that taking a tax deduction violated FAA regulations. Some publications repeated the erroneous information. Because the Cassady opinion statement had not been officially released, FAA took action to publish the issue formally. Rick Cremer, FAA’s representative on Compuserve, presented the result there to settle the matter once and for all:

762019 S15/FAA Topics
23-Feb-95 11:17:31
Fm Rick Cremer FAA HQ 72130,3305


Recently, the FAA published Change 10 to it’s Air Transportation Inspector’s handbook (FAA Order 8400.10). That change included new guidance for our inspectors concerning Angel Flights. Included below, is the full text of guidance. What it says, basically, is that if a person takes a charitable tax deduction for the costs associated with the operation that does not constitute a for hire or compensation operation.

Best Regards

Rick Cremer FAA HDQ

FAA Order 8400.10, Vol. 4, Chap. 5, Sect. 1, Para 1345 12/20/94


FOR CHARITABLE FLIGHTS OR LIFE FLIGHTS. Various organizations and pilots are conducting flights that are characterized as “volunteer,” “charity,” or “humanitarian.” These flights are referred to by numerous generic names, including “lifeline flights,” “life flights,” “mercy flights,” and “angel flights.” These types of flights will be referred to as “life flights” in this section.

A. Purposes for Life Flights. The types of organizations and pilots involved with or conducting life flights vary greatly. The most common purpose of life flights is to transport ill or injured persons who cannot financially afford commercial transport to appropriate medical treatment facilities, or to transport blood or human organs. Other “compassionate flights” include transporting a child to visit with a dying relative, or transporting a dying patient to return to the city of the patient’s birth.

B. FAA Policy. The FAA’s policy supports “truly humanitarian efforts” to provide life flights to needy persons (including “compassionate flights”). This also includes flights involving the transfer of blood and human organs. Since Congress has specifically provided for the tax deductibility of some costs of charitable acts, the FAA will not treat charitable deductions of such costs, standing alone, as constituting “compensation or hire” for the purpose of enforcement of FAR 61.118 or FAR Part 135. Inspectors should not treat the tax deductibility of costs as constituting “compensation or hire” when the flights are conducted for humanitarian purposes.

Internal Revenue Service Treatment of Public Benefit Flying - 1993
The following information was provided to the Air Care Alliance and affiliated public benefit flying groups in 1993.


I was requested by a pilot who flies public benefit missions to provide information about a specific Private Letter Ruling the IRS issued. It may provide some clarification regarding how the IRS regards taking a tax deduction for expenses incurred on behalf of a public benefit organization. I’ve copied the pertinent sections below and provided the reference for those who wish to look at the entire letter and its citations.

NOTE: CAUTION – DISCLAIMER – DON’T TREAD ON ME! This is an IRS LETTER RULING to a PARTICULAR UNNAMED GROUP. These letters are published to give people an idea of how the IRS has treated issues in the past, but you must heed the disclaimer paragraph near the end. Likewise, this relates only to certain provisions of the IRS code, regulations, or rulings. If you have further questions please feel free to contact me.

Rol Murrow, Chairman

From Page 1373 of The Exempt Organization Tax Review:

LTR 9243043

Aviation Program Expenses Are Deductible

The Service has ruled that volunteer pilots may deduct expenses directly related to a program that promotes public interest in aviation.

Date: July 29, 1992

Refer Reply to: CC:IT&A:3 TR-31-1130-92…

“Dear …[unidentified Foundation],

“This responds to your letter of June 3, 1992, in which you request a ruling as to the tax treatment of expenses incurred by participants in a program sponsored by Foundation under section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code.” (Continued…)

[ED. NOTE: The opening of the letter describes the unnamed Foundation as a valid 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization and describes its charitable purpose, plus the program in which volunteers will provide introductory flights to youths] …

“Volunteers will incur out-of-pocket expenses related to the demonstrations. These costs are: (1) fuel and oil for the actual flight; (2) transportation to and from the airport; (3) rental charges for a bus or van; (4) rental charges for an airplane used only for the program; (5) extra liability insurance incurred only for the program; (6) postage for mailing registration records; and (7) landing and tying down fees at a non-base home airport. Other expenses incurred by the volunteers for the youths are: (1) aeronautical educational materials; (2) meals; and (3) film and development.

“The volunteers will not be reimbursed by Foundation, or any other organization or person for demonstration and incidental costs.”

[ED. NOTE: The next sections cite and review certain IRS Code Sections, Regulations, and Rulings relating to various of the above expenses. In one case, a vehicle owner driving for his church was not permitted deduction of the full fair rental value of his personal automobile and airplane because:… ]

“…the vehicles remained under the taxpayer’s control at all times. A deduction for depreciation was also denied because depreciation is not considered a payment. The court further denied a deduction for insurance premiums and the cost of repairs because the church was not the sole beneficiary of the insurance, and the repairs were not shown to have been caused by the use of the vehicles for solely charitable purposes. The court, however, held that the taxpayer was entitled to a deduction for out-of-pocket expenses including unreimbursed expenses for gasoline, oil, and pilot and license registration fees.

“Volunteer pilots rendering gratuitous services to Foundation aid Foundation in carrying out its exempt purpose. Therefore, expenses actually incurred by volunteers in direct connection with, and solely attributable to the performance of such services are contributions to Foundation. Accordingly, we conclude that the expenses listed above are deductible under section 170 of the Code.

“This ruling is directed only to Foundation. Section 6110(j)(3) of the Code provides that this ruling may not be cited or used as precedent.

“No opinion is expressed as to the federal tax consequences of the transaction described above under any other provision of the Code than section 170.

“Sincerely yours,

“Assistant Chief Counsel, (Income Tax & Accounting)
by Michael D. Finley, Chief, Branch 3.”