Traveling within the United States

TSA Letter for Traveling Skydivers

Taking Parachutes Along

As a result of USPA and Parachute Industry Association efforts, the Transportation Security Administration has issued nationwide guidance to its screeners, inspectors, and supervisors about the carriage of parachute rigs on board commercial airlines. First and foremost, the directive makes it absolutely clear that the TSA allows parachutes on board as both carry-on and checked items, with or without Automatic Activation Devices. Finally, the guidance describes how skydivers should prepare to have their parachutes inspected. Please print a copy of these travel tips from the TSA website explaining the procedures.

Here is what skydivers need to know.
While rigs with or without AADs are now officially accepted as carry-on and checked items, skydivers may still encounter occasional problems. Screeners have a duty to thoroughly inspect parachutes in accordance with SOPs. Screeners have been advised that under no circumstances are they to touch or pull handles or otherwise forcefully open any parachute. Further, if screeners determine that it is necessary to open a rig for complete inspection, the owner of the rig must be present and allowed to assist. For this reason, skydivers are advised to add at least 30 minutes to the airline's recommended arrival window.

The TSA uses a variety of explosive detection systems at various airports. USPA has run a variety of rigs with AADs through the systems at a TSA lab. Results show that rigs and components will not trigger explosive detection systems. However, there are a variety of substances that skydivers may encounter in everyday life that will trigger these systems, things like grass fertilizer, fireworks, and firearms residue that contain nitrates, and hand lotion which contains glycerides. As a result, someone who has recently walked a golf course, shot off fireworks or firearms, or applied hand lotion, and then packed their rig for travel may have inadvertently caused their rig to trigger a trace detection machine, which will require the screener to open a rig for thorough inspection.

Here are suggested ways to make traveling with a parachute easier.

Skydivers may find that taking their rig as a carry-on item may prove to be more hassle-free than checking the rig. Rigs should be inside a gear bag or other suitable carry-on container. No other items should be packed with the parachute, as they may interfere with the parachute screening by not allowing the inspector to see a clear image of the rig. Obvious TSA attention-getters are things like lead weights, hook knives, and flotation gear. Such items should be checked if possible. Screeners should no longer be surprised or confused by x-ray images of AAD-equipped rigs. If screeners suspect an item in the bag for some reason, they will request to look inside the bag. If suspicions remain, the screener may swab the bag and rig to determine if there are any trace explosives. The screener may then require the rig to be opened for a thorough search only if trace explosives are detected. If a rig must be opened, the owner will be allowed to assist and the inspection may be done in a location away from the checkpoint. The owner will be allowed to repack the rig. All in all, chances are excellent that the rig will uneventfully pass through the x-ray machine.

Checked Item
Commercial airports run all checked bags through sophisticated explosive detection systems. Bags are only hand-searched if they trigger the machine, so chances are slight that a gear bag and rig will need to be opened. Small commercial airports use less sophisticated explosive trace detection machines supplemented by random hand searches. If the screener determines that the parachute needs to be opened, the owner will be paged and told where to report to be present and assist.

Following check-in, it is likely that the checked rig will be screened by TSA within 30 minutes. Therefore, remaining near the ticket counter for 30 minutes and paying close attention to airport paging announcements could hasten the process if the TSA needs to open the rig. If TSA cannot locate the rig's owner, the rig will not be transported on the flight.

Skydivers encountering problems with screeners should request that the screener's supervisor become involved. Skydivers should insist that the supervisor review "The Parachute Screening section of the Screening Checkpoint Standard Operating Procedure." Skydivers encountering unsatisfactory treatment should contact USPA at (540) 604-9740 or email us.

Traveling to the United States

You can jump your own gear, even if it’s not approved by the FAA (U.S. government).
Before 2001, international skydivers could only jump gear approved by FAA (TSO’d) when jumping in the U.S. In 2001, USPA fought that rule and won so that international jumpers could jump their non-approved gear while visiting the states. (See TSO Memo below for more details.)

Make sure your rig is in date!
In the U.S., all reserves must be repacked every 180 days by an FAA rigger. Your gear, if not FAA-approved (TSO’d), may be packed based on your country’s repack interval. (See TSO Memo below for more details.)

Traveling with a skydiving rig as a carry-on is easy within the U.S.
USPA and PIA issued nationwide guidance to U.S. screeners, inspectors and supervisors about the carriage of parachute rigs on board commercial airlines. Skydivers encountering problems with screeners should request that the screener's supervisor become involved. Skydivers should insist that the supervisor review "The Parachute Screening section of the Screening Checkpoint Standard Operating Procedure." Skydivers encountering unsatisfactory treatment should contact USPA at (540) 604-9740 or email us. Be ready to provide the airport, date and time of flight, airline and flight number, and names of TSA officials involved.

USPA Group Member drop zones may require jumpers to be insured.
Check with the drop zone you’re visiting to find out for sure. USPA membership provides the necessary insurance; if you’re not already a member of USPA, you may want to join. Some drop zones even offer an introductory membership for $20, which is good for 90 days.

Review Safety Rules and Recommendations in the U.S.
There are only a few Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) directed at skydivers in the U.S. (for example, it is illegal to jump through clouds). In addition, USPA has established Basic Safety Regulations (BSRs) to further help ensure safety of skydivers (like a minimum opening altitude of 2,500 feet or approximately 762 meters). All USPA Group Member drop zones adhere to these rules and recommendations.

Check the website of the drop zone you’re visiting for more details.
It’s always good to check the drop zone’s website for more information about the local area, as well as food, lodging and transportation options. The U.S. is full of very friendly people who welcome all cultures. And if you bring beer, you’re sure to be a hit!

TSO Memo
With Part 105, the FARs allow non-TSO'd equipment (not FAA-approved) to be jumped in the U.S. Prior to 2001, individual DZOs and event organizers were required to petition the FAA for an exemption that allowed foreigners at those DZs/events to jump non-TSO'd gear. To reduce the burden on those operators (and to reduce its own burden when hosting meets), USPA petitioned the FAA to "permit foreign nationals to jump their own parachute equipment while in the U.S. as long as it is manufactured under the applicable country of origin approval or certificate of use."

The actual language used in the new regulation is below. However, to more fully assess the FAA's intent, it is often helpful to review the preamble to the final rule, that is the discussion area of the final rule that exposes the FAA's thought process as it developed the final rule.

In the preamble, the FAA referenced USPA's petition, and discussed the issue in terms of "foreign parachutists" who "could not use their own equipment, usually manufactured in another country…" Additionally, in the discussion of foreign equipment, the FAA's preamble says, "Only single-harness, dual parachute systems which contain a non-technical standard order (non-TSO) reserve parachute or non-TSO'd harness and container would be allowed to be used in the U.S. by the owner…" (This sentence was intended to clarify that non-TSO'd tandem rigs would not be allowed.) Finally, the preamble says that the FAA, "does not agree that the foreign parachute system should be subject to the U.S. repack cycle (180 days)" but "must meet the requirements of their country."
Appendix 1 contains the applicable FAR Section. Following is a summary:
  • Section 105.3 defines "approved parachute" as being either TSO'd or having military identification.
  • Section 105.3 also defines "foreign parachutist" as neither a U.S. citizen or a resident alien "using parachuting equipment not manufactured in the U.S."
  • Section 105.43 sets out that all persons must use TSO'd equipment. (The section goes on to specify packing requirements.)
  • Then Section 105.49 then states that no one may use an "unapproved foreign parachute system" unless several conditions are met. The first is that the equipment "is worn by a foreign parachutist who is the owner..."
  • Section 105.49 goes on to say that "All foreign non-approved parachutes deployed…shall be packed as follows—…the reserve…must be packed in accordance with the foreign…requirements, by [an FAA] rigger or any other person acceptable to the Administrator." (Note the word "deployed.")
U.S. citizens and resident aliens must jump TSO'd rigs in the U.S.

A non-U.S. citizen or non-resident alien may jump a non-TSO'd rig if he/she owns the rig and it is approved in his/her country.

If a non-TSO'd parachute is deployed in the U.S., the reserve must be packed in accordance with the foreign country's requirements by an FAA rigger, or any person acceptable to the FAA. The repack cycle that applies is that required by the foreign country.

Of course, a foreign skydiver may also jump a TSO'd rig, but what then? The answer is "he falls under Section 105.43 and is subject to U.S. rules, including the 180-day repack cycle, and reserve packed by an FAA rigger." By what logic? Part 105 says if you are jumping "approved" equipment, you fall under Section 105.43, and if you are jumping "unapproved" equipment, you fall under Section 105.49. Furthermore, he does not meet the definition of "foreign parachutist" if his TSO'd rig was made in the U.S.A. (He would meet the definition if his TSO'd rig were made in his country, but he still would be jumping "approved" equipment, not "unapproved" equipment.)

In summary, if jumping TSO'd equipment, you are under 105.43 and are subject to FAA repack requirements. If jumping non-TSO'd equipment, you are under Section 105.49 and are subject to your country's repack requirements.

Bottom Line
Yes, if it's his gear. "Unapproved" gear is jumped under 105.49, which allows foreign repack rules.
No. "Approved" gear is jumped under 105.43, and the U.S. repack rules apply.
What his country requires. The gear is "unapproved" and under 105.49, foreign repack rules apply.
180 days. The gear is "approved," and therefore under 105.43, and the U.S. repack rules apply.
An FAA rigger, whomever the foreign country allows, and anyone acceptable to the FAA.
No. As an unapproved rig, it falls under 105.49, which specifically says, "All foreign non-approved parachutes deployed by a foreign parachutist shall be packed as follows…" (Then goes on to say it can be packed in accordance with the country's requirements.)
Yes, if not previously packed by an FAA rigger. We've already said the rig falls under 105.43 (approved equipment). And 105.43 says, "The reserve parachute must have been packed by a certificated parachute rigger…" Odds are, when the foreigner brings his TSO'd rig into the U.S., it has not been packed by an FAA rigger. The reserve will need to be packed by an FAA rigger before it can be jumped.