The road to the Invictus Games

Saturday 20th October will mark the start of the annual Invictus Games, which this year is taking place in Sydney. The event will attract over 500 competitors from across 18 nations. Created by Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, the Invictus Games sees wounded, injured or sick armed forces personnel compete in a series of multi-sport events including wheelchair basketball, athletics and sitting volleyball on behalf of their nation.

While the games have successfully generated a greater awareness and a wider understanding and respect for the wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, they have also helped raise awareness of the challenges PRMs (persons with reduced mobility) face on a daily basis.

Air travel for PRMs

One challenge faced by PRMs who rely on their wheelchair is using air travel. The standard procedure when travelling with a wheelchair is to notify the airline at least 24 hours in advance so that the airline can make reasonable adjustments. This means that time can be dedicated to storing a personal wheelchair safely in the hold and the PRM can be transported to their allocated seat using an on-board wheelchair. Accommodating PRMs is something airlines are continuously aiming to improve and why many of them have an on-board wheelchair, such as Airchair, to assist a PRM and provide a comfortable and dignified journey.

Additionally, one of the most time consuming procedures of air travel is boarding passengers and often the airline is faced with a tight turnaround time. An on-board wheelchair helps airlines move a PRM comfortably, safely and efficiently to their seat.

In order to try and improve the treatment and care of a PRM there is growing desire to find a solution so that PRMs can remain in their wheelchair and it can go on-board the aircraft, taking the place of an existing seat, and be suitably secured for the flight. However, as would be expected, the airline industry has strict safety regulations, and designing and manufacturing seats for aircraft to meet the regulations is a rigorous and time consuming process.

Due to the testing process, manufacturers need to ensure an aircraft seat can endure a load of 16G from the front and, when the seat is at a 60 degree angle, a load of 30G. Furthermore, the seatbelt system needs to ensure that they will not fail in the event of an accident. As the testing is so intense, manufacturers can expect to incur significant costs and as the current design of conventional wheelchairs would not be able to endure aircraft loads, they will need to be redesigned and tested.

It may be a while before a solution is found that allows wheelchairs to be taken on-board, and so until then airlines must prioritise the treatment of PRMs and ensure their experience is a positive one.