Sydney Airport To Offer Visually Impaired Navigation Service

Sydney Airport has taken an Australian first step and launched a new navigation service for the visually impaired. Partnering up with technology firm Aira, this new service aims to confidently guide those in need throughout the labyrinth of terminals, arrival halls and more.

Sydney Airport is now more accessible. Photo: Maxim75 via Wikivoyage

“We welcome 44.4 million passengers a year through the airport and we’re continually looking for innovative ways to make the journey better,” Sydney Airport said in a statement.

This service aims to not just guide passengers from a taxi to their gate, but actually open up all the airport offerings, such as food, shopping and more.

How will the system work?

The new guidance system will work just like any navigation app on a smartphone (like Google Maps), but instead of a route through a city, it will route through the airport. But this comparison does not do the service justice, as not only does it navigate using the internal WiFi of the airport (far more accurate than mobile networks or GPS) it also feeds in real time airport data such as departures, delays, and arrivals.

The service has already been trialed at Sydney Domestic Airport (Terminal 2) with success.

“This new service will significantly improve the airport experience for the visually impaired community. The trial we recently completed at T2 Domestic was a game changer for the participant and that’s something we’re really excited about,” said Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert to Airport-Technology.com

Additionally, the app also connects the user to an Aira agent who can personalize information, track their progress and guide them with a friendly voice. This is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Normally this service is provided by Aira on a subscription model, but Sydney Airport (who we remind readers owns a monopoly on the five million plus population city) is offering it for free.

“Participants normally sign up to a plan and pay for the service by the minute, but when they use the service at Sydney Airport, we’re happy to cover the cost to support the visually impaired community,” closed off Culbert.

Sydney Airport
Sydney Airport is now more accessible for all. Photo: Sydney Airport.

What do people think of the new service?

Vision Australia, an advocacy group for low-vision people in Australia, praised the move by the airport. CEO Ron Hooton told Airport World,

“The technology makes the world instantly more accessible for the more than 380,000 people in Australia who are blind or have low vision. “Becoming an Aira Access location means the community can visit Sydney Airport without worrying if there will be somebody there to help them make their way to check in, find their gate or access any other of the airport’s facilities,”

One user trialed the service recently and said it was a game changer, as reported by Australian Aviation:

“When I need to go to the airport, I normally just go straight from the train station to my boarding gate, as I’m not able to distinguish what’s around. Using Aira for the first time, I was able to learn where things were and realized the full offering of the airport.”

It remains to be seen if Melbourne and Brisbane, two rivals of Sydney Airport (and both controlling their own cities access to air travel) will implement the free offering. Whilst this is utterly fantastic for those visually impaired, it is a bit of a gimmick to have this service available for free only at the airport. It is likely that this is more of a marketing ploy by Aira rather than a charitable move by the airport. Ideally, it should be available in far more locations.

What do you think? Would you ever use this service? Let us know in the comments.

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