Will You Ever be Able to Stay in Your Own Wheelchair on an Airplane? A US Access Board Report


airplane taking off

The US Access Board recently released the results of a study on the feasibility of installing wheelchair securement systems on passenger aircraft. This study was mandated by Congress, sponsored by the US Access Board, and conducted by the specially appointed Transportation Research Board (TRB).

The main job of the TRB was to answer the question, “Is it possible to install some type of wheelchair securement device on passenger aircraft, so that wheelchair-users can stay in their own wheelchairs for the duration of the flight?”

The 160 page report included a little background on the issue, and also presented real life examples of how air travel would be a better experience for wheelchair-users if they were able to remain in their own wheelchairs for the entire flight. But of course, the latter is something that we already knew.

The results of the report were positive, but the direction of any concrete action is still uncertain.

After extensive studies, and obtaining feedback from airline safety experts as well as advocacy groups, the TRB could not identify any issues that seem likely to present design and engineering challenges so formidable that it would call into question the feasibility of installing in-cabin wheelchair securement systems on passenger aircraft.

In other words, it’s probably doable.

The TRB also recommended the the US Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conduct a research program in collaboration with the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) and the assistive technology industry, to test and evaluate a selection of WC19-compliant wheelchairs for FAA crashworthiness. WC19-compliant wheelchairs are built to the RESNA standards for vehicle crashworthiness.

In other words, let’s move on to more studies.

Additionally the TRB recommended that the US Access Board sponsor studies to assess the demand for air travel by wheelchair-users, if they could remain in their own wheelchairs for the entire flight.

In other words, would more wheelchair-users fly if they could stay in their own wheelchairs? I assume this study will not only include the desirability of the issue, but also include economic issues.

Finally, since Congress called for this study, the TRB asked Congress to consider their recommendations as well as the need for appropriate resources to execute them.

In other words, they threw it back to our lawmakers to move forward on the issue.

So where do we stand now? Well we are still a long way from rolling on to an airplane and fastening a securement device, but at least this study found that it’s not impossible. They also didn’t come right out and say it is possible, but left that for future committees to determine.

And then of course, it all lies in our lawmakers’ ability to see this as a pressing issue, and to allocate funds for future studies.

Time will tell. Progress is possible as times change. Remember, before the Air Carrier Access Act was passed, airlines required wheelchair-users to sit on blankets, for fear they would soil the seats.

At least we appear to be moving forward, and that’s a positive step in my opinion.