In order for a wheelchair-user to fly on a commercial airline, he or she must relinquish their own wheelchair, transfer to an aisle chair, and then transfer to an airplane seat. This has been the standard procedure since the Air Carrier Access Act was first established in 1986. Over thirty years later, today some advocates feel it’s time for a change; and to that end the US Access Board is looking into the feasibility of using restraint systems — much like those on buses — on commercial aircraft, so that wheelchair-users can stay in their own wheelchairs for the duration of the flight.
The Access Board has enlisted the Transportation Research Board (TRB), which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, to conduct this assessment and issue a report. The Access Board and the TRB will also seek input from the Department of Transportation, aircraft manufacturers, air carriers and disability advocates during the course of this study.
The TRB will organize an expert panel which will include experts in aircraft manufacturing, aeronautics, aviation safety, accessibility, disability policy and airline operations, to assess the issue. They will examine the design, engineering, and safety requirements for equipping aircraft with locking or tiedown mechanisms; and if such restraint systems are found to be feasible, the panel will then assess how they can be used to accommodate passengers. The TRB is expected to submit their report to Congress by October 2021.
Says Access Board Executive Director David Capozzi, “The Board is eager to examine this issue which has the potential to make flying safer and more comfortable for thousands of people who use wheelchairs.”