What pops into your mind when you hear the words Business Aviation? Salaried pilots flying corporate jets? Transportation for big shots? While I doubt my definition is documented in the Federal Aviation Regulations, I think of Business Aviation as the use of a General Aviation aircraft for business transportation. (So does the National Business Aviation Association.) When I flew my B-55 Baron maintained in accordance with FAR Part 91 to see clients or attend business meetings, I was truly engaged in Business Aviation regardless of the certificates I held at the time. Any pilot desiring to travel for reasons of personal business can use any aircraft for which he or she is qualified to fly. A commercial certificate is not required provided the flight is neither for compensation or hire.
General Aviation, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, encompasses all flights that are not conducted by either Scheduled Airlines or the Military. Thus a salesperson with a private pilot certificate using his or her rented or owned aircraft to contact clients is truly engaged in Business Aviation.
The benefits of using a private aircraft for business travel are significant. If you have not considered this form of transportation, you should regardless of the type of aircraft you operate or the pilot certificate you hold.
The business man or woman who flies a GA aircraft has access to about 10 times the airports with any Scheduled Airline service and nearly 100 times the locations with frequent flights. About 50 airports in the USA account for nearly 80 percent of all passenger enplanements, which means that it is often difficult to find a scheduled flight that serves a business person’s transportation needs in a timely and efficient fashion. In many situations, the nearest airport with Scheduled Airline service is many miles from the intended business meeting.
With the Scheduled Airlines participating in a practice called “Capacity Discipline”, fewer airline flights are available. Departures from major hubs since 2007 have been reduced by nearly nine percent. Flights from second and third tier airports are fewer by about 20 percent. Overall, domestic departures by Scheduled Airlines were down by 14.4 percent between 2007 and 2012. Thus the advantages of using General Aviation aircraft for business travel increase yearly.
A private pilot using a GA aircraft for business travel must understand what constitutes compensation, however. The federal government regards receipt of anything valuable in return for providing air transportation as being compensated. Thus a company that allows an employee to be paid for miles of travel, such as receiving a mileage allowance as if driving his or her personal car, might be deemed as being compensated. On the other hand, a private pilot is allowed to share operating expenses with passengers provided he or she pays a pro rate portion of the cost of fuel, oil, airport expenditures and rental fees. Maintenance, financing and capital costs, however, cannot be included in the assessment of operating costs when sharing expenses with a passenger.
Furthermore, flights flown by a private pilot must be incidental to his or her business or employment. For example, a person engaged in aerial photography would require a commercial certificate to pilot the camera aircraft; a person employed with a pipeline company would need a commercial certificate to fly pipeline patrol.
Check with your tax advisor or with the AOPA regarding how you should account for the cost of business travel in your own or rented aircraft. Also consult with your broker regarding any limitations imposed by your insurance carrier.
An additional caveat: While a commercial certificate is not necessary, holding a current instrument rating and being proficient flying in IMC is a practical necessity for any aviator contemplating the use of a GA aircraft for business travel.