We hold that The Boeing Company is exempt from aircraft fuel excise taxation when it (1) supplies fuel with the aircraft it sells to air carriers certified under federal law, and (2) uses fuel in its chase planes.
Boeing manufactures and sells aircraft to commercial air carriers and other customers. As part of its business, Boeing purchases jet aircraft fuel and, in connection with the delivery of aircraft to customers, Boeing supplies jet aircraft fuel to air carriers holding certificates of public convenience and necessity issued under the provisions of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, Public Law 85-726, as amended. In addition, Boeing uses aircraft fuel in chase planes. Chase planes are planes which accompany experimental aircraft for the purpose of observation and photography.
A statute imposing an excise tax on aircraft fuel was enacted in 1967 and amended in 1969. RCW 82.42.020 (Laws of 1969, 1st Ex. Sess., ch. 254, § 2).
Following enactment, Boeing, as a licensed dealer of aircraft fuel, began filing with the Department monthly reports of aircraft fuel consumption on forms supplied by the Department. These forms showed Boeing's use and delivery of aircraft fuel including jet aircraft fuel supplied by Boeing to air carriers certified under the Federal Aviation Act of 1958. As provided on the form, all deliveries of fuel by Boeing to its customers certified under the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 were deductible.
In 1969, the Department issued a notice directing the discontinuance of the old form. Instead, Boeing was instructed to use the new "Aviation Fuel Dealer and/or
In 1979-80, the Department conducted an audit of Boeing's records for the purpose of determining aircraft fuel tax liability for the audit period of January 1, 1976 to December 31, 1978. During the audit period, Boeing did not hold an aircraft fuel distributor's license. The Department determined that Boeing had failed to pay tax on 8,387,073 gallons of fuel it used or supplied to others during the audit period. An assessment was issued against Boeing in the amount of $269,014.40 for taxes, penalties and interest. Boeing paid the tax bill and commenced suit against the Department for a refund.
The trial court held that Boeing was entitled to a refund of $211,130.74 because two of the various ways Boeing used or supplied fuel were exempt from taxation under RCW 82.42.030(1) and (2) (Laws of 1967, 1st Ex. Sess., ch. 10, § 3).
During the audit period, RCW 82.42.030 provided:
Boeing supplied 5,618,715 gallons of fuel to certificated air carriers during the audit period. The fuel was on board the newly purchased aircraft at time of delivery. All the carriers were domestic carriers which possessed a certificate of public convenience and necessity, or were foreign flag carriers which were treated in the same manner by the Department. Former WAC 308-78-040. The trial court held that this fuel was exempt from taxation under RCW 82.42.030(1). In addition, Boeing used 81,957 gallons of fuel during the audit period for chase planes. The trial court held this fuel to be exempt under RCW 82.42.030(2). The Department has appealed and contends these two activities were taxable.
The first issue is the interpretation of RCW 82.42.030(1). Boeing contends that the air carriers to which it supplied
The Department's denial of the exemption is new. Prior to 1980, the Department's position was that if Boeing could demonstrate that title and risk of loss of the aircraft had passed to the customer, then the fuel on board was not taxable. We quote from a letter dated December 10, 1979, written by Assistant Attorney General W. Howard Fischer to Merle Steffenson, Administrator, Prorate and Fuel Tax.
Plaintiff's exhibit 13. Mr. Steffenson then wrote to Boeing tax administrator James Tate, on April 21, 1980 and informed him that fuel on board at delivery was taxable "unless the title and risk of loss was transferred to the customer prior to the commencement of the delivery flight."
CERTIFICATED AIR CARRIER EXEMPTION
In addition, the last antecedent rule supports this interpretation. Such rule is one of statutory construction which says:
Davis v. Gibbs, 39 Wn.2d 481, 483, 236 P.2d 545 (1951). The rule as applied to RCW 82.42.030(1) means the qualifying phrase "operating under a certificate of public convenience and necessity" refers to the immediate antecedent phrase "any air carrier or supplemental air carrier". It does not refer to the prior phrase "the operation of aircraft".
CHASE PLANE EXEMPTION
During the audit period, Boeing consumed 81,957 gallons of jet aircraft fuel in chase planes. Boeing claims an exemption under RCW 82.42.030(2) which exempts aircraft fuel used for testing or experimental purposes.
We hold that Boeing is entitled to the exemption of RCW 82.42.030(1) when it supplies fuel with the aircraft it sells to air carriers possessing a certificate of public convenience and necessity issued under the provisions of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958. We further hold that chase planes are included within the exemption of RCW 82.42.030(2). We affirm.
WILLIAMS, C.J., and UTTER, BRACHTENBACH, DOLLIVER, DIMMICK, PEARSON, and ANDERSEN, JJ., concur.
"There is hereby levied, and there shall be collected by every distributor of aircraft fuel, an excise tax of two cents on each gallon of aircraft fuel sold, delivered or used in this state: Provided, That there shall be collected from every consumer or user of aircraft fuel either the use tax imposed by RCW 82.12.020, as amended, or the retail sales tax imposed by RCW 82.08.020, as amended, collection procedure to be as prescribed by law and/or rule or regulation of the department of revenue. The taxes imposed by this chapter shall be collected and paid to the state but once in respect to any aircraft fuel."