It Could Soon Be Possible To Fly In A Wheelchair

A consortium including PriestmanGoode, SWS Certification and Flying Disabled have today revealed a solution to the pressing problem of flying with a wheelchair. Air 4 All promises to allow powered wheelchair users to remain in their own chair throughout the journey, without reducing seat count on the aircraft.

Air 4 All flying in a wheelchair
Photo: PriestmanGoode

From home to holiday in your own wheelchair

British design house PriestmanGoode has today unveiled a new product that is set to revolutionize how passengers with reduced mobility travel. Created in partnership with Flying Disabled and SWS Certification, Air 4 All is a system that will allow powered wheelchair users to stay in their own chair for the entire journey.

At present, flying with a wheelchair involves handing the chair over to the airline on arrival at the airport. The passenger is then transferred into a smaller, less mobile ‘aisle chair’, suitable for use on the aircraft. But the passenger doesn’t even get to stay in this chair for the journey.

Boarding the plane, the passenger is transferred into their seat, often involving a good degree of manhandling by the crew. Their own wheelchair is transported in the belly hold, along with baggage and cargo. All too frequently, this ends in the wheelchair becoming damaged or broken, leaving the passenger stranded at the other end of their trip.

Air 4 All flying in a wheelchair
The unique solution allows airline seats to convert into wheelchair-accessible positions. Photo: PriestmanGoode

With Air 4 All, the passenger will be able to travel in their own powered wheelchair on the aircraft. The consortium has designed the solution to ensure no seat count is lost to the airline, and that the passenger can fly safely. Chris Wood MBE, Founder of Flying Disabled, commented on the product saying,

“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 harmonized and fit for purpose, thus significantly improving the travel experience for severely disabled passengers.”

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How does it work?

Air 4 All works a bit like the ISOFIX systems in passenger cars, which will be familiar to anyone who has driven with a baby seat on board. A modification is made to both the airline seat and the wheelchair to allow both parts to attach together, providing a secure installation of the wheelchair in a seat position. The clip below illustrates this function:

The solution has been designed to work with a range of powered wheelchair types, as well as a variety of airline seats. If the flight does not require a wheelchair accessible placement, the seat can be returned to a regular cabin seat. Paul Priestman, designer and Chairman of PriestmanGoode commented,

“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 flying in a wheelchair
When no wheelchair user is onboard, the seat converts back into a regular airline seat. Photo: PriestmanGoode

The unveiling of Air 4 All comes on the 35th anniversary of the Air Carriers Access Act, passed by US Congress in 1986. This Act served to guarantee that passengers with reduced mobility would be treated equally and consistently when traveling by air. For many wheelchair users, a product such as this cannot come soon enough.

PriestmanGoode and the consortium are planning to release the first prototype of Air 4 All in December. The product has applications in the wider transportation field too, and the developers have stated they are actively looking for other partners to take this system forward for things like rail and metro.