A consortium comprising PriestmanGoode, SWS Certification and Flying Disabled is to launch a new system enabling wheelchair users to travel in their own wheelchair while on board a commercial aircraft without reducing the seat count for airlines.
The first prototype of the Air 4 All system is expected in December 2021 and works in a similar way to Isofix/Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) standards in passenger cars. Both the airline seats and wheelchairs facilitate an installation and attachment system, enabling wheelchairs to be securely installed in the aircraft cabin. The system is designed so that different powered wheelchair types can be certified for flying and will be able to interface with a wide range of airline seats. If no wheelchairs require access, the seats function as regular airline seats.
The Air 4 All system is designed to convert front row seats to enable the installation of a wheelchair guidance and locking system to the aircraft, allowing for up to two wheelchairs per row to travel on a single flight. The system has been designed initially for a narrowbody two-plus-two configuration of seating. The consortium will be working alongside Sunrise Medical to establish which powerchairs would be fit to fly, as well as to retrofit and create new standards for powered wheelchairs, thus enabling passengers with the most challenging disabilities to travel more easily.
The launch 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 traveling by air.
Chris Wood, founder of Flying Disabled, said, “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.”
Paul Priestman, designer and chairman of PriestmanGoode, said, “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.”
A short video of the Air 4 All system is available here.