New prototype wheelchair seat promises accessibility for in-flight travel – Skift | Instant News

A new prototype aircraft seat called the “Freedom Seat”, offering passengers with reduced mobility the ability to fly seated in their own wheelchairs, is touring the airline community leisurely with the goal of becoming the premier seat of certified wheelchair flight. Imagined by a major, undisclosed airline and Hank Scott, CEO of Denver-based Molon Labe Seating, the Freedom Seat is a wider, economy aisle seat that slides over the neighboring chair, leaving room for an easy chair. wheel can lock securely in place. The size of the potential market that such an innovation would help is increasing. Market research published by the organization Open Doors shows that 27 million American travelers with disabilities made a total of 81 million trips and spent $ 58.7 billion on trips in 2018-19, up from 34.6 billion dollars in the previous 2015 study. Scott is enthusiastic and hopeful about the certification of not only the Freedom Seat, which ultimately is an airplane seat, but also other in-flight accessible seating devices, including including mooring system and restraints. He also said he hoped that wheelchairs approved by the Federal Aviation Administration would soon improve the lives of passengers with disabilities. But that’s where the challenge lies: the FAA. The agency must review the results of the seat’s rigorous testing as a precursor to consider certifying it for use. This certification is needed before Scott has a chance to sell it to airlines. See previous Skift coverage on Disabled Travelers: Disabled Travelers Face New Challenges During Covid The launch of the Freedom seat is only part of a very complex project. While some experts believe it may take years for planes to be fully equipped to accommodate passengers flying in their own wheelchairs, disability advocates, airlines and industry experts continue to work. together to improve accessibility while maintaining rigorous safety standards. But unprecedented for testing, research, development or funding, this continues to be a challenge. If certified, the Freedom Seat could be a game-changer for airlines and the response to dignified flight that disability advocates and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) have long championed. To fully understand what disabled passengers do when they fly, imagine yourself in an electric wheelchair, having to fly from New York to San Francisco. After checking in, going through security and arriving at your door, you’re only halfway there. You must always get on the plane from your wheelchair. Depending on how long it takes you, as you walk through the terminal and perhaps a restroom stop, it is quite possible that you may or may not arrive at the boarding gate in time for pre-boarding. And this is where the basis for a myriad of issues that disability advocates point out lies, resulting in a lack of accessible travel for passengers, especially for anyone who uses a wheelchair and needs to board a wheelchair. flight with other passengers already on board. The challenges of boarding Traveling by plane is “outrageous,” said Chris Woods, founder of FlyingDisabled and father of two young adults in wheelchairs. “It doesn’t matter if you’re my daughter’s age, which is 28, or you’re 88,” he says. “You always have to be manhandled from your wheelchair in an airplane seat, which is usually not suitable.” The handling that Woods refers to involves the transfer from a wheelchair to an aisle chair – a very narrow wheelchair that fits within the confines of an airplane aisle – to the airplane seat. But there is also an element of security to this. Lee Page, Senior Associate Director of Advocacy for the 15,000 Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA); said, “My back is 18 by 18, sitting and I’m six feet, 200 pounds. I would like to transfer to this aisle chair, which only has a 14 inch seat. And now I would be strapped in with seat belts and belts around the suspenders coming over them. “But it’s such a narrow device, and I have no way to brake or propel it. It turns over easily, you can easily fall out of it. It’s not a very secure device, ”he added. Page, 57, a quadriplegic who often has to dehydrate before flying to make sure he does not need to use the in-flight toilet, said transferring disabled passengers to their seats involves a lot of physique and people doing the lifting have not been properly trained for it. However, Woods and Page agree that while the Freedom Seat may not be a savior, it is a start. This would eliminate an intermediate boarding process and reduce damage to wheelchairs randomly stored in cargo – some costing up to $ 45,000 for custom wheelchairs and inconvenience for disabled passengers who depend on their chair. In fact, Page believes having the ability to fly with one’s own wheelchair would prompt many PVA members to trade in car trips for flights to their destinations if they were no longer at risk of damaging their wheelchairs. For his part, Scott of Molon Labe has worked closely with a variety of stakeholders, including disability advocates like Page, Woods and All Wheels Up, a Texas-based nonprofit that has worked for 10 years to fund and test wheelchairs and wheelchairs. commercial airline security systems. “We learned that the wheelchair securement systems that are on buses and trains today pass a 20G crash test, so we passed that information on to the FAA, and after months of trying to work with it. the FAA, they just said, you know that is not a project that we can get money for, ”said Michele Erwin, president of All Wheels Up. While no other organization is even considering throwing a wheelchair into a shuttle at an FAA-approved crash test center, the mother of a disabled teenager has not been deterred. There wasn’t even a sled that could hold a wheelchair to allow for testing, but after designing and building one, the first tests in 2016 proved that there was a possibility that there was a wheelchair space on planes, and the customer in that wheelchair would. survive, says Erwin. The FAA has indicated it will consider a wheelchair crash test exemption, Scott said. While the FAA does not generally discuss any work in progress with manufacturers, and does not confirm or deny working with Molon Labe or anyone in the accessible flight space to certify wheelchair seats on airplanes, it has issued a statement. “Manufacturers must demonstrate that any seat or locking device would meet all FAA seat certification regulations, including being able to withstand 16G force in the event of an accident,” said Emma Duncan, a door – speech of the FAA. In order to test in a cabin environment, Scott has partnered with Boeing to test a variety of things, from the docking system to moving around corners and working with disability advocates to highlight things that may not be obvious to them but important to someone. a wheelchair. A Boeing spokesperson said a small team of Boeing engineers would help explore wheelchair accessibility issues in the cabin. “The focus of our assessment with Molon Labe will include exploring maneuver restrictions, space limitations and other design considerations using our model airplane environment,” the spokesperson said. Without providing funds, Boeing will provide a model airplane environment and a small team of engineers to explore the wheelchair accessibility issues in the cabin and Molon Labe will provide the prototype. Scott said testing will take place in mid-summer and the assessment with Boeing will help Molon Labe define the exact dimensions required. Watch this Skift video with Stephen Cluskey, CEO of Mobility Mojo, Scott, of Molon Labe, highlights a study conducted by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) and the Transportation Research Board (TRB) on the feasibility of wheelchair restraint systems in passenger aircraft as a good sign. The study, sponsored by the US Access Board and under the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, examines the problems faced by people with significant disabilities who use wheelchairs in flight, said Dr. Melissa Welch-Ross, director of study for the Transportation Research Board. The final report should be ready for review in September. Although All Wheels Up’s Erwin believes the Freedom Seat will one day be on planes, she said there is still a lot of work to be done to fully certify the wheelchair lock and the wheelchair itself. Whatever the future of accessible air travel may be, while it’s not certain, it’s closer than ever. See the full article Photo credit: Molon Labe Seating and JPA Design rendering of the “Freedom Seat” prototype allowing the use of the wheelchair in flight. Hank Scott / JPA Design / Molon Labe Seating

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