Getting a pilot's license isn't cheap. As of April 2011, just getting a private pilot's license can cost upwards of $6,000, including ground school and check rides. Obtaining a commercial pilot's license costs significantly more than that. Add to that the need for obtaining a multi-engine license, and the costs go up substantially. Unfortunately, if you are not already working as a pilot, you cannot generally deduct the costs from your taxes of getting a new license. However, if you are already a pilot, you can often write off any out-of-pocket or unreimbursed costs of additional pilot training.
The tax code provides for a number of deductions for educational costs, but only under certain circumstances. Specifically, you can only deduct the costs of education, including pilot training, if that training does not qualify you for a new profession.
Applicability to Aviation Training
Because your initial pilot's license qualifies you for a new profession (you weren't a pilot beforehand), the costs of obtaining your pilot's license would not normally be deductible. However, if you were already working as a pilot, you would be able to deduct the costs of obtaining additional licenses, certifications and check rides.
Lifetime Learning Credit
Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to qualify for the Lifetime Learning Credit. As of April 2011, this is a tax credit of up to $2,000, designed to offset expenses you incur for any training or education undertaken to enhance job skills. For information on eligibility criteria and how to apply for the Lifetime Learning Credit, see IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education (see Resources). Ensure that your flight school qualifies for this program prior to claiming the deduction.
Section 529 Plans
Section 529 allows you to set aside money to save for your own education, or someone else's education, on a tax-advantaged basis. While you may not be able to deduct the costs of your initial pilot training directly, you may be able to deduct your contributions to a Section 529 plan. Withdrawals for qualified educational expenses are tax free. Again, however, verify with your flight school that it qualifies for this program before claiming the deduction or qualified educational expense.
Leslie McClintock has been writing professionally since 2001. She has been published in "Wealth and Retirement Planner," "Senior Market Advisor," "The Annuity Selling Guide," and many other outlets. A licensed life and health insurance agent, McClintock holds a B.A. from the University of Southern California.