An interview with the founder and inventor of the Airchair, Brian Richards.
Creating an on-board wheelchair that caters for both passengers and airlines is not without difficulty. On one hand, the need for comfort and passenger satisfaction is crucial, on the other, making a chair as cost effective as possible often sacrifices safety and comfort. This has long been a challenge for manufacturers, but not for Airchair.
We interview Brian to understand what fuelled his desire to create the perfect on-board wheelchair.
“Why did you decide to design an on-board wheelchair?”
Brian: “I began my career, many years ago now, as an aircraft engineer. This foundation meant I understood the design and workings of aircraft and spent many years supplying specialist equipment to the airlines. It was a conversation with Virgin Airlines in 2007 that made me aware of the inadequacy of on-board wheelchairs and the need to develop a clever design that supported the passenger but worked for the airlines too.”
“I’ve had first-hand experience supporting people with disabilities and reduced mobility in my personal life too and so I understand the difficulties they can face. This experience inspired and helped me design the ideal on-board wheelchair.”
“What are the key design features of Airchair?”
Brian: “For the passenger it is comfort and safety; for the airline it is weight, ease of use and storage. The dignity of the passenger must be considered all the time and so an on-board wheelchair that provides a comfortable and safe experience is essential. The Airchair is robust and can take weights of up to 250kg (550lb) and so the passenger feels safe when they sit on it.”
“Conversely though, the Airchair only weighs 6kg (13lb), adding little weight to the aircraft and therefore helping fuel saving, and it folds small enough to be stored in an overhead locker or dog box, negating the need to have special fixings installed. It’s extremely simple to deploy too so the cabin crew find it very easy to use and move around the cabin.”
“What features differentiate Airchair from other on-board wheelchairs?”
Brian: “Weight aside, although this is a big advantage, the Airchair has a retracting backrest. This is a unique feature and I purposely included it because it enables the cabin crew or carer to get closer to the passenger to help them slip from the airport wheelchair to the Airchair and the Airchair to their seat on the aircraft. It reduces the possibility of back strain which can be a real concern for those involved and helps airlines avoid their employees suffering muscular skeletal injuries.”
“But a feature that is very pertinent today is the anti-microbial powder coating on Airchair’s framework. At the time of designing the Airchair I wanted to ensure it could be cleaned and kept as hygienic as possible and so I decided to finish the framework with Sterilcoat-AM®. This is an anti-microbial powder coating and it prevents the spread of dangerous micro-organisms by significantly reducing microbial activity and suppressing the growth of mould and bacteria. Of course I had no idea how important that would be today making the Airchair an ideal addition to any COVID-19 compliant cabin.”
“What about regulations? Does the Airchair conform to any standards?”
Brian: “This is a very misinterpreted area of airline regulation and one that can create confusion with our customers. Other than ARP4120 there is no standard or regulation for on-board wheelchairs, only specifications that make recommendations such as: EU 1107/2006, UK DPTAC and US DoT 14 CFR 382. Many customers ask if a Form1 is required but we carefully explain that as the Airchair is a carry-on piece of equipment and can be stored easily in the overhead lockers or dog box, it does not require Form1. This is usually acceptable for our customers.”
“Which airlines are using Airchair?”
Brian: “We have customers across the globe, flying both long and short haul, including Virgin Australia, Norwegian, FlyDubai, SAS, Rossiya and Aeroflot as well as many of the smaller airlines. As the number of passengers with reduced mobility flying increases, being able to help them board and move around an aircraft safely and with dignity remains our number one priority and something we will continue to do in the future.”