Would you fly knowing an airline could break your legs every time you got on board? It may seem like something of an absurd question. But for passengers dependent on wheelchairs it is a very real risk they take. Having that very expensive, customized piece of hardware loaded into the aircraft belly is fraught with risk, but getting the chair on board has never really been a viable option. Until now (or at least hopefully soon).
Air4All and Delta Flight Products (DFP) have cooperated to develop a prototype seat that allows powered wheelchair to remain in their own wheelchairs for the entire journey. The seat was on display at Aircraft Interiors Expo 2023 in Hamburg last week. Much work remains before it might take flight, but this is the most significant progress in accessibility travel in decades.
DFP delivers highly engineered products and services to fill service gaps, solve operational challenges and transform the experience of customers and crewmembers. Air4All is collaborating with DFP and our strong production and manufacturing capabilities to explore new ways to deliver equal access to comfort, safety, and dignity for all customers. This patented design offers new possibilities for customers with disabilities to enjoy a travel experience they truly deserve. – Rick Salanitri, President of Delta Flight Products
The concept delivers as a drop-in replacement for the pair of seats at the front of the cabin. The aisle seat of the pair is designed to quickly and easily fold out of the way. Hooks built into the floor secure the chair in position and the passenger is able to travel without further ado.
Simplicity is key to delivering this solution. DFP envisions a flight attendant potentially handling the conversion on-board rather than requiring specially trained personnel. And the companies expect minimal training would be required. To the point that at least one visitor to the booth was given a chance to prove how easy the process is.
The teams have obviously focused on many small details, beyond just making sure the chair can get on board and be locked into position. The center console raises up as the seat is reconfigured, for example, to ensure that the tray table can be accessed by that passenger, allowing them to eat, work, or play on board.
Similarly, the headrest can adjust out from the seat back to provide additional comfort to the wheelchair passenger. A DFP representative suggests the adjustable headrest could be an optional configuration for the seat.
The initial design is built around accommodating wheelchairs designed to the WC19 standard. This covers details like tie-down attachment points, seatbelt access, and structural integrity in a crash. This is also the type of chair that users are familiar with for travel on trains, cars, and other transportation, so it is a reasonable target for an initial effort.
Chris Wood of Flying Disabled, one of the key partners in Air4All, knows there is more to be done. “I’m hearing from people who have seen the demo, asking if their specific chair will fit. We don’t know yet. But we’re focused on leaving no one behind. We’re already talking about making the convertible space a tiny bit wider to accommodate a wider range of chairs.”
“We’re very conscious that we’re not going to cover everybody in the first iteration,” Wood continued, “But this is a moonshot and we’ve got to make it go.”
As compelling as the demonstration in Hamburg was, it is important to balance that optimism with the reality of what must still be done for this to truly fly.
DFP’s Rick Salanitri suggested the offering is only 20% of the way to completion, with significant engineering and certification work remaining. The mechanics of the design are simple and elegant. But going from a viable concept to something the FAA will allow on board is hardly a trivial task. Still, he is optimistic on the timeline, with a certification target by the end of 2024.
Moreover, many open questions must still be answered. Will the chairs be required to pass a certification as well to fly in the cabin? How will airlines handle the slightly different on-board experience when it is not being used by a wheelchair traveler? Will travelers be forced to pay first class fares to fly in their wheelchair?
And, most significantly, will airlines buy it? While DFP is a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines both groups were very clear that this remains a concept in development by DFP independent from the operating carrier. A Delta spokesperson at the booth explained, “We’re excited for the innovation, but we have not committed to buying it yet. Travel should be for everybody, so we were always looking for different types of innovation like this.”
Lots of crazy concepts show up at trade shows. Many never make it past the concept stage. This is decidedly not that, however. Salanitri was clear that DFP is committed to seeing this project through, “We we want to offer this to the world and get it on as many airplanes as possible, just to make make travel more accessible. That’s the key tenet of what we’re trying to accomplish here.” And he’s rarely one to bet against once his mind is set.
More news from Aircraft Interiors Expo 2023
- Crystal Cabin Awards short list: 80+ designs that will change the way you fly
- Finalists for 2023 Crystal Cabin Awards represent the future of passenger comfort
- ThinKom, Kontron partner for multi-constellation, multi-orbit, multi-modem IFC terminal
- Stellar Blu secures Boeing line-fit agreement
- Seamless finalizes QoE metrics, certifies first partner
- Recaro introduces PL3810, next generation of premium economy
- Jazeera saves weight, increases cabin capacity with Expliseat TiSeat E2
- Hughes signs on as OneWeb partner, launches new IFC options for airlines
- Recaro’s Xtend option allows exit row legroom shrink
- Aurora single-aisle lie-flat business class seats unveiled by Collins Aerospace
- Air Canada plans more free Wi-Fi with regional jet upgrades
- Unum Two launches as forward-facing business class option
- Collins brings galley inserts online with low-cost retrofit option
- Airbus HBCplus Ku-band providers selected
- ThinKom Plus launches, with hybrid LEO/GEO offering
- Air4All, Delta Flight Products team for wheelchair seating on board
- Testing the next step for LEO-based IFC
- JAL plans boost for inflight Wi-Fi service
- Airspace coming to A220 family
- InteliSence aims to boost premium cabin service with seat monitoring, analysis
- Seeking understanding in the IFC world
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