The inability to use one’s wheelchair on airplanes makes air travel very difficult, if not impossible, for many people with disabilities. It requires multiple transfers between boarding chairs and aircraft seats, posing injury risks. Airline seats are a poor alternative to personal wheelchairs, which are typically customized for the user’s safety, comfort, and specific medical needs. Further, passengers’ wheelchairs are stowed in the cargo hold and often damaged, mishandled, or lost as a result.
To address these challenges, the U.S. Access Board is undertaking a study to assess the feasibility of equipping aircraft with securement systems so that passengers can remain in their wheelchairs on flights. Congress directed the Board to study this issue in the Reauthorization Act.
The Board is conducting this study in partnership with the Transportation Research Board, a component of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. To thoroughly address the research topic, TRB has organized a committee of experts in aircraft interiors and safety engineering, accessibility, wheelchair design and crashworthiness, airline operations, and other disciplines. The committee held its first meeting in February 2020.
Committee members are evaluating the design, engineering, and safety requirements for equipping aircraft with locking or tiedown mechanisms for non-motorized and motorized wheelchairs used as seats. If the committee determines that the use of such systems in passenger aircraft is feasible, it will then assess how the systems can be used to accommodate passengers using wheelchairs through all phases of flight, from boarding to deplaning.
The committee held a series of closed and open meetings in 2020. It will continue to meet in closed sessions throughout 2021 and expects to publish a final report in September 2021. TRB will submit its report to the Board and to Congress.
Visit TRB’s website for further information on this project. Direct questions to Mario Damiani of the Access Board at (202) 272-0050 or firstname.lastname@example.org or to Anusha Jayasinghe of TRB at AJayasinghe@nas.edu or (202) 334-2401.
FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-254)
SEC. 432. STUDY ON IN-CABIN WHEELCHAIR RESTRAINT SYSTEMS. *
(a) STUDY. Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation, aircraft manufacturers, air carriers, and disability advocates, shall conduct a study to determine:
(1) the feasibility of in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems; and
(2) if feasible, the ways in which individuals with significant disabilities using wheelchairs, including power wheelchairs, can be accommodated with in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems.
(b) REPORT. Not later than 1 year after the initiation of the study under subsection (a), the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report on the findings of the study.
*Also known as “wheelchair securement systems.”