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How Aerospace Companies Should Account for Long-Term Contracts: Revenue Recognition Strategies

Overview of Long-Term Contract Accounting

Long-term contracts in the aerospace industry, encompassing construction, procurement, and services over a period, necessitate meticulous accounting. Such contracts pose unique challenges due to their duration, complexity, and the timing of revenue recognition.

Revenue recognition for long-term contracts traditionally follows the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) or the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Under IFRS, the guidance is found within IFRS 15, which stipulates a five-step model to revenue recognition. This model revolves around the identification and satisfaction of performance obligations.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued updates on GAAP through Accounting Standards Codification (ASC) 606. This standard aligns closely with IFRS 15, converging international and US accounting principles. It dictates that revenue is to be recognized as the company transfers control of goods or services to a customer, proportional to the fulfillment of these performance obligations.

Companies select an accounting method either on a percentage-of-completion or completed contract basis. The former recognizes revenues and expenses based on contract progress while the latter recognizes these at contract completion. The choice of method affects the financial reporting and the depiction of a company’s financial health.

Aerospace companies must adhere to these standards, evaluating and updating their accounting practices. Efficient financial reporting demands integrating contract costs, revenue estimates, and progress updates to present an accurate financial position reflective of actual performance over contract lifespan. The ability to do so confidently and transparently underlies the sector’s financial integrity.

Revenue Recognition under IFRS and US GAAP

The principles of revenue recognition for aerospace companies under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and the United States Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (US GAAP) are vital for accurate financial reporting. These principles are guided by the frameworks of IFRS 15 and ASC 606 respectively, which determine how and when revenue is recognized over the lifespan of contracts with customers.

IFRS 15 and ASC 606 Frameworks

Under both IFRS 15 and ASC 606, aerospace companies are required to follow a five-step model to recognize revenue. IFRS 15, “Revenue from Contracts with Customers”, and its US GAAP counterpart, ASC 606, share a core principle that an entity must recognize revenue to depict the transfer of promised goods or services to customers in an amount that reflects the consideration to which the entity expects to be entitled in exchange for those goods or services.

Identifying Performance Obligations

Identifying the performance obligations in a contract is a critical aspect of revenue recognition. A performance obligation is a promise in a contract with a customer to transfer a good or service to the customer. Aerospace companies must scrutinize contracts to determine if goods and services are distinct and should be accounted for as separate performance obligations.

Determining the Transaction Price

The transaction price is the amount of consideration an entity expects to be entitled to in exchange for transferring promised goods or services to a customer. When establishing the transaction price, aerospace companies must consider variable considerations, time value of money, non-cash considerations, and other factors that could influence the amount of revenue to be recognized.

Recognizing Revenue as Performance Obligations are Satisfied

Revenue is recognized when (or as) each performance obligation is satisfied. This occurs when the control of the promised good or service is transferred to the customer. For aerospace companies, satisfying performance obligations can occur over a period of time, and revenue may be recognized based on the progress towards complete satisfaction of the performance obligation. In financial statements, this progressive recognition of revenue must reflect the transfer of control from the aerospace company to the customer.

Accounting for Contract Costs

In the aerospace industry, the accurate accounting for contract costs is vital to reflecting a company’s financial performance. It involves meticulous tracking and categorization of both direct and indirect expenses incurred over the lifecycle of a contract.

Direct and Indirect Costs

Direct costs refer to expenses that are specifically associated with a contract and typically include materials, labor, and equipment. Aerospace companies must systematically track these costs as they are directly attributable to a specific contract.

Indirect costs, conversely, are expenses that are not directly tied to a single contract. These might encompass overheads such as facility maintenance and utility expenses. The allocation of indirect costs to contracts needs to be based on a systematic and rational method that is consistently applied.

Capitalization of Costs

Certain costs associated with long-term contracts can be capitalized if they directly relate to a specific contract and likely to enhance the value of the goods or services to be provided under the contract. For aerospace companies, such costs might include design and testing expenses that bring value to the contract over multiple reporting periods. The following conditions must be met for capitalization:

  • Costs should be clearly identifiable and attributable to the contract.
  • They are expected to be recovered through the contract revenue.

The capitalization process requires a high level of judgement, and periodically it needs to be assessed for impairment or changes in circumstances.

Amortization and Expensing

Once costs are capitalized, an aerospace company must amortize these costs over the pattern in which the value is delivered to the customer or based on the transfer of goods or services. The method of amortization should reflect the consumption of the economic benefits of the costs capitalized.

For costs that do not meet the capitalization criteria, they are expensed as incurred. Expensing costs as they are incurred ensures that the company’s financial statements accurately reflect the costs in the period they are borne, providing a realistic view of the financial performance during that accounting period.

Methods of Revenue Recognition

Aerospace companies must carefully select an appropriate revenue recognition method that aligns with the nature and terms of their long-term contracts. The choice of method impacts how revenue and costs are reported over the contract period, directly affecting the financial statements.

Percentage-of-Completion Method

The Percentage-of-Completion Method is commonly employed for long-term aerospace contracts where estimates of progress toward completion, revenues, and costs are reasonably dependable. This method allows for revenue recognition as work on the contract progresses. Revenue, expenses, and profit are recognized each accounting period based on the contract’s state of completion. This method reflects ongoing financial performance but relies heavily on the accuracy of estimates.

Example of calculation:

  • Estimated Total Revenue: $1.2 million
  • Estimated Total Costs: $600,000
  • Costs Incurred to Date: $150,000
  • Percentage of Completion: ( \frac{150,000}{600,000} = 25% )
  • Revenue Recognized to Date: ( 1.2 million \times 25% = $300,000 )

Completed-Contract Method

The Completed-Contract Method defers all revenue and expense recognition until a contract is substantially complete. This conservative approach is typically adopted when project outcomes cannot be reliably estimated. Aerospace companies may use this method for highly complex projects where performance uncertainties or changing requirements make it difficult to measure progress.

Key points:

  • Recognizes revenue and profit only upon contract completion.
  • Costs incurred during the contract period appear as work-in-progress in the balance sheet.

Input and Output Methods

Under Input and Output Methods, revenue recognition depends on the measurement of resources consumed (input) or units delivered (output) relative to total expected inputs or outputs.

  • Input Method: Tracks resources such as labor hours, material costs, or machine usage to gauge contract progress. This method provides a measure of effort expended and is often seen as an indicator of performance.

Example of input method:


  • Total budgeted hours: 10,000 hours



  • Hours used this period: 2,500 hours



  • Percentage complete: ( \frac{2,500}{10,000} = 25% )



  • Assuming a proportional revenue recognition:



  • Output Method: Focuses on direct measurement of the value transferred to the customer in the form of goods or services produced. Milestone achievements or units delivered can trigger revenue recognition.


Example of output method:

  • Estimated total units: 100 aircrafts
  • Units delivered to date: 25 aircrafts
  • Percentage complete: ( \frac{25}{100} = 25% )
  • Revenue recognized is based on the percentage of completion.

Choosing between these methods is crucial for accurate financial reporting and compliance with accounting standards such as ASC 606, which dictates the criteria and timing for revenue recognition.

Dealing with Contract Modifications

Aerospace companies frequently encounter contract modifications during long-term projects. These modifications necessitate careful consideration to ensure proper revenue recognition over the contract lifecycle.

Understanding Contract Modifications:
Modifications occur when the parties to a contract agree to change its scope, price, or both. Aerospace companies must evaluate if the modification adds distinct performance obligations or changes the existing ones.

  • Distinct Goods or Services: Modifications that add distinct goods or services – which are independently identifiable from the original contract – may require the establishment of a new contract with a separate transaction price.
  • Non-Distinct Changes: If the modification does not add distinct performance obligations, it may be treated as part of the existing contract, impacting the transaction price and the measure of progress.

Accounting for Modifications:
The proper accounting treatment depends on whether the modification is deemed to be a separate contract or a change to the existing contract.

  • Separate Contracts: Modifications that constitute separate contracts are accounted for independently, with revenue recognized as the distinct performance obligations are satisfied.
  • Changes to Existing Contracts: Changes that do not qualify as separate contracts require an update to the transaction price and a reallocation of the price to performance obligations, which could affect the timing and amount of revenue recognized.

Transaction Price Adjustments:
The transaction price may be adjusted to reflect the consideration to which the company expects to be entitled.

Consideration TypeAccounting Treatment
Fixed AmountAllocated based on the standalone selling price
Variable ConsiderationEstimated and constrained to prevent revenue reversal

To summarize, aerospace companies should closely monitor contract modifications, determine the appropriate accounting standards to apply, and assess the impact on revenue recognition and the transaction price. These steps are critical to providing accurate financial reporting reflective of the company’s economic activities.

Revenue Recognition for Special Cases

The complexity of revenue recognition in long-term contracts often necessitates special accounting considerations, particularly in industries such as construction, engineering, software, and aerospace. These sectors frequently encounter unique contractual arrangements that dictate the timing and amount of revenue recognition.

Long-Term Contracts in Construction and Engineering

In the construction and engineering sectors, revenue from long-term contracts is traditionally recognized using the percentage-of-completion method. Under this approach, companies gauge revenue based on the progress toward completion of a contractual obligation. The criterion for progress can be measured by costs incurred, labor hours worked, or units delivered. It is critical to evaluate each contract for distinct goods or services and performance obligations. For example, if a contract includes building a bridge and constructing an access road leading to it, the revenue may need to be recognized separately if the elements are distinct within the context of the contract.

Milestones can serve as a specific indicator of progress when accounting for long-term contracts. When a milestone represents a substantive event, such as the completion of a project phase, it might be appropriate to recognize revenue associated with that milestone.

Software Development Revenue Recognition

Software development contracts pose unique challenges due to the customized nature of the deliverables and the varying customer specifications. In these scenarios, a software company should first determine if the software being developed meets the criteria of a distinct good or service or if it should be bundled with other promises as a series. Revenue is then recognized as the company satisfies each performance obligation.

Software updates and post-contract support services may also involve variable consideration. Because customers might receive these additional benefits over time, companies need to allocate part of the transaction price to these future services and recognize that revenue as the obligations are fulfilled.

Accounting for Revenue in Aerospace Sector

Aerospace companies frequently deal with long-term contracts that may span several years. Under these contracts, companies need to carefully assess at what point control of a product, such as an aircraft, is transferred to the customer, which could be a point in time or over time. Revenue recognition in these cases hinges on the transfer of control, which could occur upon completion of manufacturing or in stages as certain contractual milestones are met.

Complex contractual terms, such as incentives for early delivery or penalties for delays, introduce variable consideration that must be taken into account when recognizing revenue. Aerospace companies should estimate this variable consideration and include it in the transaction price to the extent that it is probable that a significant reversal will not occur when the uncertainty associated with the variable consideration is resolved.

Measurement and Recognition of Progress

When accounting for long-term aerospace and defense contracts, companies must carefully assess the progress towards completion as it is intrinsic to revenue recognition. The fundamental objective is to match the recognition of revenue to the transfer of control over goods or services.

Methods of Measuring Progress:

  • Input Method: This approach focuses on tallying the costs incurred over time relative to the total estimated contract costs. It reflects progress based on the proportion of resources consumed.
  • Output Method: This method tracks direct measurements of the value transferred to the customer, like units delivered or milestones achieved.

Engineering and construction companies often apply these methods due to the nature of their contracts.

Recognizing Revenue:

  • Over Time: If the company’s performance creates or enhances an asset that the customer controls as the asset is created or enhanced.
  • At a Point in Time: When control of the asset is transferred to the customer at once, typically when the project is complete.

Contract Costs:

  • Contract-related costs must be allocated to the same period in which the related revenue is recognized.
  • Incurred Costs represent efforts or work provided to the customer and they are critical in measuring progress.

Companies dealing with aerospace, defense, construction, or engineering contracts must enforce a meticulous tracking system for progress and costs to ensure that revenue recognition adheres to applicable accounting standards and provides a transparent depiction of their financial health.

Financial Disclosures and Compliance

In the realm of aerospace finance, precise disclosure of revenue and stringent adherence to accounting standards are indispensable for fostering transparency and ensuring compliance.

Revenue Disclosures

Aerospace companies must meticulously document and disclose revenue figures in accordance with the recognized accounting frameworks like US GAAP or International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). The disclosures should encompass:

  • Revenue Recognition: Clarify the timing of revenue recognition, whether at a point in time or over time, based on the transfer of control to the customer.
  • Breakdown of Revenue: Present a detailed breakdown of revenue streams from different types of contracts, highlighting the financial impact of each.

Compliance with Accounting Standards

Aerospace organizations are bound by complex regulations and must comply with intricate accounting standards, such as ASC 606 or IFRS 15, related to long-term contracts. Exceptional compliance practices necessitate:

  • Conforming to ASC 606 and IFRS 15: Ensure that all revenue is recognized in alignment with the five-step model put forward by these standards.
  • Robust Internal Controls: Establish and maintain internal controls that are rigorous and comprehensive, aiming to secure the integrity of financial reporting.
  • Best Practices: Embrace best practices in financial reporting, including transparency in financial statements and consistent application of accounting policies.

Companies should also exercise diligence in maintaining relevant documentation, which aids in compliance checks and provides evidence of best accounting practices to regulators, auditors, and stakeholders.

Management Judgments and Estimates

When aerospace companies account for long-term contracts, management must employ significant judgment and make estimates that affect financial reporting. Key areas where this applies include:

  • Revenue Recognition Policies: Companies must decide when to recognize revenue. The point in time or over time recognition hinges on when control of the good or service transfers to the customer.
  • Performance Obligations: These must be clearly identified and regularly evaluated, as they determine how revenue is allocated and recognized throughout the contract lifecycle.

The determination of gross profit on a contract relies heavily on estimates of total contract revenues and costs. Aerospace companies typically recognize gross profit as work progresses, but this approach requires careful assessment of progress toward the completion of performance obligations.


  • Estimates: Management’s estimates affect almost every aspect of contract accounting. These estimates must be revisited and, if necessary, revised each reporting period.



  • Management Judgments: From the inception of a contract, management’s judgments on the enforceability of contracts, customer creditworthiness, and the likelihood of meeting contractual milestones all shape revenue recognition.


Incorporating these judgments and estimates can be complex, necessitating robust internal controls and transparent disclosure to give stakeholders confidence in reported financials. They are tasked with ensuring that estimates are reasonable, justifiable, and consistent with historical outcomes where applicable.

Frequently Asked Questions

In the complex landscape of aerospace accounting, grasping when and how to recognize revenue and losses is critical for accurate and compliant financial reporting. Below, key questions are addressed to clarify these accounting practices for long-term contracts.

When should a company recognize a loss on a long-term contract under current accounting standards?

A company should recognize a loss on a long-term contract when it is evident that the total estimated contract costs exceed the total estimated contract revenue. This loss must be recognized immediately, regardless of the degree of completion of the contract.

What are the journal entry processes for accounting for long-term contracts?

Journal entries for long-term contracts typically include recording construction expenses, recognizing progress billings to customers, and accounting for revenue earned during the period based on the stage of completion. This often requires adjusting entries as estimates for revenues or costs evolve.

How does percentage-of-completion method determine the revenue recognized in each accounting period for a long-term contract?

The percentage-of-completion method determines revenue recognized by calculating the proportion of work completed to date out of the total contract, using costs incurred, labor hours, or other measurable inputs. This percentage is then applied to the total contract revenue to determine the revenue recognized in each period.

How are long-term construction contracts accounted for at the end of a financial period?

At the end of a financial period, long-term construction contracts are accounted for based on their stage of completion. This can involve updating the estimated costs and revenue figures and recognizing revenue earned and expenses incurred up to that point in time.

What are the key differences between ASC 606 and ASC 605 in terms of revenue recognition for long-term contracts?

The key differences between ASC 606 and ASC 605 are that ASC 606 introduces a five-step model that focuses on the transfer of control rather than the act of earning and realization under ASC 605. ASC 606 also provides more detailed guidance on multiple-element arrangements and variable consideration.

What considerations should be taken into account for revenue recognition under long-term service contracts?

For revenue recognition under long-term service contracts, companies should consider whether the revenue is recognized over time or at a point in time, the pattern of transfer of services, the measurement of progress towards complete satisfaction of the performance obligation, and the estimation of the transaction price, which may include variable consideration.

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