Why the airport access equipment market is set to soar

gatwick airport

A year on from a document that blasted airports for accessibility failings, a new report has been published by the CAA showing significant investment and improvement. We look at how millions has been spent on access and mobility solutions and why this market is set to soar.

In spite of the summer’s unusually warm weather leading to an increase in ‘staycations’, the UK’s airports catered for more disabled passengers than ever before in recent months. More and more people with limited mobility are using air travel but in correlation, more people are having issues with accessibility at airport and on airlines. Last year, a scathing report from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rapped major airports across the UK, including Heathrow and Manchester, for failing to provide sufficient facilities for disabled passengers.

The report, which ranked airports on accessibility, sparked almost immediate heavy investment from airport operators into new access and mobility solutions, prompting welcome sales in the industry. A year on, the CAA has published a new report which ranks airports on accessibility and shows that access and mobility has been a key consideration for operators over the last 12 months.

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Heathrow Airport, which was ranked as ‘poor’ in 2017, signed off on a £23m contract with passenger assistance service OmniServ and purchased specialised signage to identify special assistance areas among other access solutions. It is unsurprising that Heathrow was quick to invest in new solutions given that the number of passengers requesting special assistance at the airport is rising at approximately 8% annually. There were over 1m requests in 2017 alone, which is more than any other European airport.

Part of Heathrow’s investment saw ProMove supply 100 of its sling devices to improve disabled access. The sling is a transportable, lightweight option for lifting and transferring passengers when it is impractical to deploy a powered hoist.

Heathrow’s investments have landed it a new ranking in the CAA’s most recent report, which judged its access to be ‘good’. In fact, only one UK airport has failed to improve accessibility for disabled passengers in the last year, according to the report. Manchester Airport was once again rated ‘poor’, while Birmingham, Stansted and Gatwick were rated as ‘needs improvement’. The CAA classified 16 airports as ‘very good’ this year, up from six last year, demonstrating improvements across the board.

The evidence would suggest airports across the board are increasingly considering access and mobility solutions and contractors when drawing budgets. This trend is only set to grow as the media continues to pick up on the complaints disabled passengers regularly make in relation to how they are treated in airports and on some airlines.

While, the report says that the assistance provided by London City was “good in general”, it expresses concerns about the equipment it uses to board disabled passengers onto aircraft. It says that it is concerned stair climbers can be uncomfortable for passengers. In relation to Manchester being rated as the only ‘poor’ airport, the CAA says that it is “not an acceptable situation”.

“This has been acknowledged by Manchester and it has implemented a performance improvement plan to bring the quality of the assistance it provides into line with the expectations of users of the services and the CAA.”

Despite large improvements across airports, the CAA says that there is still more to do to improve journeys for disabled passengers and those with reduced mobility.

“For example, although satisfaction with the assistance service is high, the survey shows that satisfaction with the overall travel experience is slightly lower for disabled people and those with reduced mobility (72% satisfied) than for passengers in general (79% satisfied), and that around half of disabled travellers and those with reduced mobility are worried about how things will go in the future. One out of ten responses to the CAA’s own ‘accessibility survey’ rated assistance at UK airports as ‘very poor’; and the numerous comments from passengers suggest that, when things do go wrong, the impact on individuals is significant.”

The industry can hope that the required improvements outlined by the CAA will mean a greater demand for access solutions and services. What’s more, the Government will soon publish its Aviation Strategy, which will set out measures to improve the airport and flying experience for disabled people. And with £300m recently set aside for access improvements across public transport infrastructure, mobility providers will be hoping for a healthy funding package for airports too.

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Joe Peskett

The author Joe Peskett

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