All posts tagged 'Costs'

Aircraft Chargebacks - What Are They?

In some companies, the term chargebacks sends shivers up the spine of the aviation manager. In others, it is a fact of life and a challenge that is met by aggressively marketing the value of the aircraft to the users. Chargebacks can drive utilization, but you can still prosper.

A chargeback is an attempt to allocate the cost of providing the air transportation service to the departments those that use it. 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 (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 NBAA, about 44% of its corporate members use chargebacks.

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. With the aircraft, two of the most common chargeback allocations are the fully loaded cost allocation and the operating cost allocation.

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.

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.

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).

Other companies my use an external source for their chargeback. Most common Are the US URS SIFL rates and First-Class airfare.

SIFL rates

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.

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.

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.

“Flight Department Companies”

Business aircraft operate in the US under FAR Part 91 and are classified as noncommercial transportation, whereas FAR 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 (even between subsidiaries within 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.

The chargeback allocation needs to reflect how the company values the use of the business aircraft. If done with that value in mind, it can be useful to assign a cost to a limited asset of the business aircraft. Thus entities within the company are using the business aircraft when it is most effective to do so. Using chargebacks just to throttle use of the aircraft can be disastrous.

Does your company have a chargeback system? What is it and how bad or good has it been?

The Time Value of Money - A powerful tool in evaluating different cash flows

Aviation is an expensive pursuit. When looking at various options for air transport alternatives, we need a way to compare the costs of those alternatives.

One way that many get caught on is just looking at a single cost, such as the acquisition cost. Aircraft A costs $1 million while Aircraft B costs $1.5 million. So buy Aircraft A.  The US Government got into using that as the sole determinant on picking between various acquisitions. Once bidders knew the rules, they underbid the acquisition cost and grossly overpriced the costs of support, spare parts and upgrades.  In the early 1960s Secretary of Defense McNamera put an end to that practice and specified that they would look at the total cost of a project, including the cost to acquire, operate, and dispose of the asset.  This was called Life Cycle Costing.

In aircraft life cycle costing, you attempt to consider all of the costs associated with the aircraft. While acquisition cost is important, so too are the operating costs of the aircraft. In fact, after a while, the total costs of operation exceed the initial acquisition expense. 

When you finally dispose of the aircraft by selling the aircraft, that residual value reduces the total costs of ownership.  So a simple life cycle cost might look like:


               Aircraft A.         Aircraft B.

Acquisition     $1 Million          $1.5 Million

Op. Costs       $1.4                $1.2

Residual Value ($0.5)              ($0.85)

Total:         $1.9 Million         $1.85 Million

In this simplification, Aircraft B actually has a lower life cycle cost. While this is a far superior method than just acquisition cost alone, we need, or should, do more of an analysis. Allow me a diversion for a moment.

Suppose that Jeremy Cox owes you $10,000.  He offers to either pay you now, or in 5 years. Jeremy is a man of his word, but yet, any of us would choose to get paid now. 

What if the reverse were the case. One of you owes Jeremy Cox $10,000.  If you had the same terms of paying now or in 5 years, again I think all of us would tell poor Jeremy to wait it out the full 5 years to get his money.

What we have just done is assigned a Time Value to money. In both cases, $10,000 is the sum. But we correctly chose to pay our debt as far into the future as we can while asking for our income or revenue up front. 

In the case of the debt, in order to pay Jeremy now, I need the full $10,000. But if I can wait 5 years to pay him, I can put about $6,800 into an investment that returns 8% per year.  After 5 years, I will have the $10,000 for Jeremy.

So with an 8% cost of money or rate of return, my future value of $10,000 is really $6,800 today. The Time Value of money assigns not only the cost, but assigns a time cost or value to when the money is paid out or comes in.  If you do this sort of analysis with every cost and revenue involving our Life Cycle Cost, you end up with a financial analysis that not only tells what the total costs are, but also assigns a time value to each of those costs.  Summing these time values up and considering our initial investment (aircraft acquisition) gives us what is called the Net Present Value of the proposition.  This is the tool to use when considering high dollar, complex proposals such as aircraft. 

With a business use aircraft, the analysis will include things such as tax depreciation, the cost of a lease or loan and the opportunity to use the money for the aircraft in other areas.  A high net worth individual may make more money with their investments than the cost of a loan.  If the aircraft is for personal use, that same individual cannot use the tax depreciation of a business, so a lease may be a better deal in terms of the Net Present Value.

To calculate a Net Present Value, a spreadsheet can be used.  Inputs are the costs, revenues, time, and the cost of money (also called rate of return or desired return on investment). 

The Time Value of money is a powerful tool in evaluating different cash flows. It need not be for a business. It can help you to evaluate complex finances and be used as a tool to evaluate the true costs of owning and operating an aircraft.

Have any of you been involved in the financial analysis of an aircraft acquisition (or any high dollar acquisition such as a costly computer network for a business)? If so please reply and tell us your experiences.  We all learn if you share.

Hire an A&P, Save Money!

With most business aircraft operators us trying to conserve money and cut back on expenses, we get questions about outsourcing maintenance versus having an in-house A&P.  While we deal with aircraft costs everyday, there is also service to consider. 

In general, the major maintenance items require a level of equipment and man-power that only a major service center can cost-effectively provide. Not only for an engine or other component overhaul, but also many major airframe inspections require extensive special tools or access to equipment that the small operator would seldom use. Only a very large operator would attempt such a repair in-house. Even most of the major airlines outsource those major inspections and component overhauls. 

But, for routine maintenance, an in-house A&P can be worth far more than their salary.

If there is a service center at home station and they provide good service, it can be cost effective to simply have the service center perform the maintenance rather than employ a full-time maintenance staff. Especially if that service center operates around the clock, or close to it. If you may have a scheduled trip at any hour, any day of the week, keeping two or three shift coverage for maintenance can be costly. An example of this was a client of ours in the Southwest US. His hangar for the Lear was next to an authorized Lear service center, so he was never more than five minutes away from his maintenance facility. He had high dispatch reliability and reasonably fast response times from them. He also had been based there for 20 years and had a very good rapport with the local service center.

If your service center of choice is 400 miles away, then you have the added cost of maintenance ferry flights to and from the facility. For a turbine aircraft that costs $1,500 per hour, each round trip to the service center can add $3,000 or more to the bill. Plus, on the (rare) occasion that your aircraft is grounded at home, waiting for the A&P to show up can cause an unacceptable delay. At a minimum you need some level of immediate service available. 

An in-house maintenance staff also gives you someone who knows your aircraft intimately. That individual not only goes to school for your make/model aircraft, they also learn the intricacies of your specific tail number. I know aircraft are mechanical devices, but I swear each aircraft does have its own personality. Given the level of options and outfitting, each aircraft does have subtle differences compared to other serial numbers. The notes a skilled A&P makes in the margins of the service manuals are sometimes worth more than the manuals themselves. 


The response time of in-house maintenance staff is immediate. Think of the in- house A&P like having a fire department close to your home. If your house catches fire, you want the fire department there as soon as possible. If the aircraft has a flat tire, and the boss wants to leave in an hour, you want that tire changed as soon as possible.  In-house maintenance gives you the dedicated response on your schedule and is dedicated to serving just you. 

When it comes to major maintenance like a 12-year airframe or a major refurbishment, having a knowledgeable A&P who works for you monitor the progress with the service center can result in an on-time completion close to budget. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." While a good service center will make every effort to get everyone's job done on time, the personal attention from you're A&P will make that much higher likely to occur. 

I've heard from an operator of a large business jet that their A&P's salary was paid for at the first major inspection. That A&P worked closely with the service center and made sure the work was done on time, and that any questions that the service center team had were addressed immediately. If you are investing in a multi-million dollar aircraft, the $100,000 per year for maintenance staff (and training, etc) is cheap insurance in maintaining aircraft availability and in keeping maintenance costs under control. 

The more valuable the aircraft, and the more valuable the aircraft owner’s time, the more worthwhile the in-house A&P becomes. 

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