As Chair of the RESNA Standards Committee for Assistive Technology for Air Travel (ATAT), Peter Axelson is working closely with representatives from airlines, DOT, FDA, disability groups, and wheelchair manufacturers to draft standards related to air travel for people with mobility impairments.
Section 4 of the standard, which was completed in September of 2021, specifies design features and labeling for mobility devices intended to reduce the damage that occurs during air travel. The complete standard will address mobility device design, labeling, handling procedures, information to be collected by the air carriers, and dissemination of relevant information to non-ambulatory passengers who use mobility devices. One section has been published and another has been drafted and is going through the pre-ballot process. This work was mentioned in a December 2019 article in Undark Magazine. For more information, visit the RESNA ATAT web page.
As a result of the three-year research project funded by the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and performed in collaboration with Jessica Prepserin-Pedersen with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Beneficial Designs proposed the formation of a standards committee as part of the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of North America (RESNA) to address some of the issues related to air travel with assistive technology. With guidance and input from Bobbi Thompson, manager at the Minden Tahoe Airport, Axelson contacted Airlines 4 America with the Paralyzed Veterans of America to determine the level of interest to reduce the damage that was occurring to powered wheelchairs. The RESNA Standards Committee for Assistive Technology for Air Travel (ATAT) first met in the fall of 2016 in Washington D.C. to bring together air carriers, wheelchair manufacturers, and disability organizations to write specifications for wheelchairs that would reduce the likelihood of damage to those devices. In September of 2021, this section of the standard was published and now many wheelchair manufacturers already offer mobility devices with many of the required features. Every major manufacturer is working on new powered wheelchair and scooter designs to be more compatible with commercial aircraft.
The design features that make a powered wheelchair less likely to get damaged are not complicated. Because the baggage doors on aircraft tend to be short and wide, the most important design feature is that powered wheelchairs need to be able to be reconfigured in a lower overall height for air travel. Currently, many powered wheelchairs are tall and the only solution to fit these devices through the baggage door of an aircraft is to tip the device on its side. This is equivalent to rolling cars onto their sides to fit more vehicles into a parking garage. Fortunately, some existing powered wheelchairs with tilt and recline mechanisms have the ability to reduce in height, but users are typically not aware of why this height reduction is necessary. If a powered wheelchair can be reduced to 33 in. in height or less, it will fit into 99% of all commercial aircraft.
Another important design feature is the ability to easily remove the joystick assembly. Easy removal of the joystick assembly will prevent damage to this expensive and critical component of every powered wheelchair. The electrical connector and the joystick itself should be designed with a quick release in order to remove the assembly without the use of tools. This component, along with removable foot supports, arm supports, head supports, seat and back cushions, etc. can all be removed and stored is a duffle bag in the overhead container or the closet on the aircraft to prevent them from getting lost or damaged. Airlines in the US are in favor of this procedure as it will prevent wheelchair parts from getting damaged or lost, as well as prevent passengers from becoming inconvenienced or stranded in their air travel experience.
drive disengagement system
manual lifting points
air travel configuration card
The new standard also requires air travel configuration information to be made available for all wheelchairs by means of an attached air travel configuration card designed to help prevent damage to wheelchairs during air travel. The Air Carrier Accessibility Advisory Committee would like to see this part of the standard adopted by reference in the US national RESNA wheelchair standards for application to all newly manufactured wheelchairs.
Click on the button below for more information on the air travel configuration card.
The RESNA committee is now working on the Section 3 of the AT-1 standard that will address the procedures for transporting mobility devices into the cargo hold of aircraft to be secured for flight and then back to the passenger in the jetway at the end of the flight. Testing of these wheelchairs for air travel is taking place at the Beneficial Designs design and testing facility.