Air travel could become a lot more appealing and inclusive for passengers with reduced mobility (PRMs) in the near future, following the reveal of the ‘Air 4 All’ system, designed to enable users of powered wheelchairs to remain in their own wheelchair for the entire journey, giving them greater independence and dignity.
The design has been driven by Flying Disabled, which has been working with regulators and governments to gain support for such a system for several years. Flying Disabled worked with PriestmanGoode for the design, SWS Certification to make it airworthy, with input from Sunrise Medical, a manufacturer of wheelchairs. The partners are currently working with a ‘subsidiary of a major airline’ to bring the product to market.
Airlines may be especially keen on the design as, in addition to having a new means of attracting PRM customers and the associated brand goodwill of an inclusive travel experience, the Air 4 All system does not reduce the cabin seat count.
Air 4 All works in a similar way to ISOFIX /LATCH standards in passenger cars. Both the airline seats and wheelchairs facilitate an installation and attachment system, enabling them to be securely installed in the aircraft cabin. Air 4 All has been initially designed for a narrowbody 2+2 configuration, with a wheelchair guidance and locking system fitted to front row seats, allowing for up to two wheelchairs per row to travel on a single flight.
The system is designed so that different types of powered wheelchairs can be certified for flying and to interface with a wide range of airline seats. If a flight does not have any wheelchair users booked, the seats function as regular airline seats, maximising capacity.
Paul Priestman, chairman of PriestmanGoode stated, “Air 4 All will usher in a step change in the industry and finally offer equal access to comfort, safety and dignity for all passengers. The biggest barrier in the past has been that giving greater space to passengers in wheelchairs would have reduced seat count and resulted in a loss of revenue for airlines. Air 4 All solves this problem and has the added benefit of enabling airlines to retain the design of their cabin on every seat, ensuring brand consistency and a cohesive brand experience for all passengers. Air 4 All will facilitate a smoother boarding and disembarking experience for PRMs and will also significantly reduce the number of wheelchairs that are damaged through poor handling.”
The project partners are working alongside Sunrise Medical to draw up a list of powerchair models that would be suitable for interfacing with Air 4 All, as well as to create new standards for powered wheelchairs, thus enabling passengers with the most challenging disabilities to travel by air.
Chris Wood MBE, Founder of Flying Disabled stated, “Air 4 All is the first system that has been developed jointly by a design agency, a certification body and with input from the disabled community. With a leading global wheelchair manufacturer as well as the subsidiary of a major airline on board to develop the product, it’s a truly collaborative project. We’re actively working with all the necessary parties, including initial discussions with some of the key national aviation authorities, to ensure our solution is harmonised and fit for purpose, thus significantly improving the travel experience for severely disabled passengers.”
A first prototype of the Air 4 All system is expected to be unveiled in December 2021.
The announcement of Air 4 All coincides with the 35th anniversary of the Air Carriers Access Act, passed by US Congress in 1986 to guarantee that people with disabilities would receive consistent and non-discriminatory treatment when travelling by air.