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Government outlines work to improve aviation accessibility

04 April 2018

The Government says it is considering a raft of new measures to work with the airline industry to make flying a more enjoyable experience for disabled passengers and those with reduced mobility. 

It comes as Britain's biggest airport says it will overhaul how disabled passengers access their wheelchairs once they've landed. Currently, they are sent to the baggage reclaim area. From June wheelchairs at Heathrow will be brought to the plane door.

Government outlines work to improve aviation accessibility:

• New plans to make flying more accessible for disabled passengers

• Proposals for better on board facilities and wheelchairs to be prioritised in baggage

• Plans for national accessibility training scheme for airport staff

The Government is considering a raft of new measures to work with industry to make flying a more enjoyable experience for disabled passengers and those with reduced mobility.

Just one of the options being considered is a review of the performance standards for airports and airlines, such as the length of time taken for a passenger to receive assistance boarding and leaving aircraft, and how these standards could be enforced.

Other proposals, which will be mentioned in the Government's upcoming Aviation Strategy Next Steps document, include:

• Improving the assistance already offered by UK airlines and airports which could include an accredited nationwide accessibility training scheme

• Working with industry to offer better on-board facilities for passengers with reduced mobility or disability, such as an on-board wheelchair and priority wheelchair storage for quick access on arrival

• Examining how airplane manufacturers can better design aircraft to make them more accessible - for example removing seats to accommodate wheelchairs and installation of disabled toilets

• Doing more to raise awareness of the assistance already provided at airports in an effort to remove the fear factor of flying

Baroness Sugg, Aviation Minister, said:

"We have to do everything possible to ensure passengers are put at the very heart of our aviation industry and the flying experience is a positive one for everyone boarding a plane.

"As part of our Aviation Strategy, we will be working to understand more about the barriers that currently exist for passengers with reduced mobility and disabilities and working with the industry to remove these obstacles."

Passengers with reduced mobility are almost half as likely to have flown in the past year as other passengers and 40% of those said the level of accessibility on flights was a decisive factor.

As part of the Aviation Strategy, which is due to be published in early 2019, the Government wants to understand why such a significant proportion of UK citizens with a disability or reduced mobility feel that it prevents them from travelling by air.

Consideration will also be given to how airports could be incentivised to improve accessibility and what can be done on-board aircraft to remove barriers, including in the way future aircraft are designed.

Keith Richards, Chair, Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee said:

"Many disabled people rely on essential equipment like wheelchairs for their own personal mobility. Yet wheelchairs are too-often treated in the same way as baggage.

"We welcome the move to prioritise wheelchairs and the focus that is being given to improving operational issues and future design to ensure that they are no longer treated in the same way as suitcases or golf clubs."

This work follows on from activity by the Civil Aviation Authority, which has stepped up its compliance activity, and efforts to highlight which airports are offering exemplary assistance to passengers and which airports are falling below standards.

The Aviation Strategy will also build on wider work to improve accessibility on all modes of transport as part of the Accessibility Action Plan. Consultation sought views on how we can improve aviation experience for disabled passengers and will be used to shape the Aviation Strategy.

The Inclusive Transport Strategy will be published later this year and will set out our long term commitment to deliver a transport system which enables people with physical and hidden disabilities to travel in the same way as everyone else.

Sue Bott CBE, Deputy CEO, Disability Rights UK said:

This statement is very welcome and if fully implemented would make a huge difference to disabled travellers.  To make this work then disabled people must be fully engaged and our voice listened to.  Government must get much more serious about ensuring equal access provided for in the Equality Act is fully implemented not just in the airline industry but across the UK as a whole.