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TSA Notice to Travelers Regarding Paintball Equipment

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TSA Guidelines for Air Travel With Paintball Gear
By Bill Mills - Nov 2004

Traveling by air with paintball gear has been a sometimes dicey proposition.  With each airline setting their own standards of what is accepted and prohibited on their aircraft, and baggage inspectors and counter personnel not always knowing their own company’s policies, the last several years have seen numerous cases of tournament teams having equipment confiscated, or refused for travel.  In worst case situations, teams would fly to a tournament only to be told on the flight home that their air systems could not go with them.

In the wake of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, airport and aircraft security has become significantly more organized.  In November 2001  Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) was formed.  Amongst its duties is the operation of airport security and baggage inspection.  As the TSA has grown and evolved, it has defined more detailed and specific guidelines for this task.  The TSA has now recognized that thousands of people travel by air to paintball tournaments in the US.  In October of 2004, the agency published an official statement regarding how paintball equipment is to be carried. 

In a nutshell, TSA’s new guidelines state that goggles may be carried in checked luggage or as carry-on, paintguns may only be transported in checked luggage, and compressed gas (CO2 or HPA) tanks may only be carried in checked luggage if the valve or regulator assembly is completely removed from the tank allowing the inspectors to see inside the open tank neck.

The trouble with this new guideline is that with very few exceptions, the valves on paintball tanks are not designed to be removed or reinstalled by untrained personnel. 

US based compressed air system manufacturers including Crossfire, Smart Parts, Airgun Designs, Centerflag Products, and NitroDuck say that their regulators are not  to be removed by the end user.  While Air America has not yet formed an official policy, the company still secures regulators to bottles with thread locking compound, making safe removal and reinstallation a job for an airsmith, not a player. 

Some companies, like Crossfire go so far as to say they do not even want certified airsmiths or hydrotestors other then themselves to remove and reinstall their regulators.  PMI voids the warranty on Pure Energy air systems that have been removed from the bottle by anyone but their own service techs.

At the time of this writing, the only compressed air or CO2 tank product known to the author to be considered removable from the tank by its user is the Angel AIR from UK based WDP, as its design requires removal for rebuilding. 

The reason manufacturers have these policies is that improper re-installation of a valve or regulator on a gas cylinder can lead to serious injury or even death, as in the case of two recent well known deadly accidents involving partially filled CO2 tanks being unscrewed from their valves. 

Unfortunately the Transportation Safety Administration has failed to share this valuable bit of safety information with the general public when announcing its new policy, and as a result may be encouraging unsafe practices for compressed gas handling in the sport of paintball.

[Author's Note - Added Dec 2004 - Following the original publication of this article, I had further discussions on the issue with a representative of National Paintball Supply who had reviewed the regulation with TSA while it was being developed, and discussions with TSA's public information staff.  TSA has since updated their web site describing the policy to feature the following text which I submitted as a possible addition:

 Please note: Many of the seals/regulators used in paintball are not designed to be removed from their cylinder by the end user.  The seal/regulator should only be removed and reinstalled by a factory trained technician.

Passengers considering air travel with a compressed air or CO2 system would be advised to contact its manufacturer for guidance in locating   a qualified technician, or to consider shipping the system to their destination via a parcel service.]

Complying with both the TSA’s policy, and the safety policies of equipment manufacturers is going to require a change in the way things are done for tournament paintball teams. 

Tournament and event promoters who are looking out for their customers are likely to set up methods for shipping and receiving compressed air systems to and from the tournament site.  Crossfire is already in the planning stages to provide an HPA tank rental system at select tournaments, and they may not be alone in this endeavor.  Competitors wishing to avoid shipping issues will likely be able to reserve and then rent an air systems at larger tournaments.  Other manufacturers may offer similar programs, or offer the service of on-site technicians to do certified re-installs on their customer’s air systems.

Those players who travel with disassembled compressed gas bottles will still need to check with their airline’s policies for prohibited items.  TSA’s guidelines do not override a carrier’s right to refuse service.  Some airlines, such as Chicago based ATA do not accept compressed air and CO2 tanks for transport under any conditions.

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