Every time I hear someone tell of their success at taking a paramotor on the airlines it makes me cringe just a bit. Kind of like when someone says they stalled their wing and “it wasn’t that bad.” Maybe THAT time it wasn’t, but in fact, it’s damned risky. So is airline travel for PPG’s.

The Rules

There are, unfortunately, several sets of rules that may apply. Residual fuel is almost always a show stopper since that makes it hazardous materials (HazMat). Here’s the list:

1. FAA Rules define what constitutes Hazmat which is not allowed to be checked.

Title 49, §175.10 (22) An internal combustion or fuel cell engine or a machine or apparatus containing an internal combustion or fuel cell engine when carried as checked baggage, provided—
  (i) The engine contains no liquid or gaseous fuel. An engine may be considered as not containing fuel when the engine components and any fuel lines have been completed drained, sufficiently cleaned of residue, and purged of vapors to remove any potential hazard and the engine when held in any orientation will not release any liquid fuel;
  (ii) The fuel tank contains no liquid or gaseous fuel. A fuel tank may be considered as not containing fuel when the fuel tank and the fuel lines have been completed drained, sufficiently cleaned of residue, and purged of vapors to remove any potential hazard;
  (iii) It is not equipped with a wet battery (including a non-spillable battery), a sodium battery or a lithium battery; and
  (iv) It contains no other hazardous materials subject to the requirements of this subchapter.

They have more readable version on a “Pack Safe” web page regarding Hazardous Material.

2. TSA Rules list “Prohibited Items” mostly from a security perspective but there’s a lot of overlap in mission. Flammable liquids, and gasoline specifically, is listed as prohibited. What about fumes? If they smell anything they will almost certainly deny carriage. And then there’s this line:

“The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.”

3. Airlines have their own rules that specify what they carry and some U.S. airlines say “no motors”. Period. My own airline does this, saying

“Southwest Airlines does not allow internal combustion engines as checked or carryon baggage. This includes new or used equipment. This restriction includes lawn equipment, engine-powered scooters, and any other fuel-operated combustion engine.” that’s on this page.

Good news, though, is that some airlines have deferred to the TSA rules which are slightly more lax. But if a restriction is in the airline’s manual, that’s the law. United Airlines is a bit more lax even with its own rules. As of 2016, says this:

Gasoline-powered tools and equipment, such as chainsaws and gas-powered weed cutters, are not allowed in baggage unless they are brand-new, the fuel source is removed or the fuel has been purged. If the fuel has been purged, the equipment must be accompanied by a letter from the company that purged the fuel.

So Can I Check My Paramotor?

Maybe. It’s still a crap shoot, and you must extirpate even the slightest whiff of fuel from the machine and harness.

This fellow tried and lost: Pilot’s FAA Violation for trying to check a paramotor on a flight.

Some pilots regularly do check their machines, though, and succeed. But what if the airline balks? Without a plan B you could be screwed like this fellow:

We’ll call him Ted. He was planning a trip to Brazil with his paramotor and flew successfully from Canada to Chicago (Air Canada) with his PPG. He had successfully taken it on Air Canada Australia previously with no hiccups. Not this time.

He was pulled off the plane in Chicago (after he boarded) by TSA who said he wouldn’t be allowed to take it on the flight to Sao Paulo as it is considered “Dangerous Goods”. Most of the point of the trip was flying the PPG so he had to abandon the trip and returned home.

The safest bet for traveling with a paramotor may be to remove just the engine and ship it separately. You can take the frame, cage, netting, redrive, prop, and anything else that doesn’t smell, even to a dog, on the airline trip. Hopefully your engine is small enough to keep the cost down. Most engines come off with 6 bolts and a few other connection–one of the beauties of it being the world’s most portable aircraft.