Brian Richards brings a unique combination of skills – an aircraft engineer who also has experience of supporting people with reduced mobility.
This unique experience enabled him to create an on-board wheelchair that caters for passengers and helps airlines comply with regulations and expectations.
We asked Brian to explain how he created 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 decades supplying specialist equipment to the airlines. A conversation with Virgin Airlines in 2007 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 airlines too.”
“I’ve had first hand experience supporting people with disabilities and reduced mobility in my personal life, so I understand the difficulties they can face. This experience inspired and helped me to design the ideal on-board wheelchair.”
“What are the key design features of the Airchair?”
Brian: “For the passenger it is comfort and safety; for the airline it is lightweight, ease of use and storage. The dignity of the passenger must be considered all the time, so an on-board wheelchair that provides a comfortable, safe experience is essential. The Airchair is robust and can take weights of up to 250kgs (550lb), so the passenger feels safe when they are seated.”
“Conversely, the Airchair only weighs 6kgs (13.2lb), adding little weight to the aircraft and helping to save fuel. 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.”
“Which 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, which I purposely included so the cabin crew, or carer can get closer to the passenger and help them slip from the airport wheelchair to the Airchair, or the Airchair to their seat on the aircraft. This 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, so I decided to finish the framework with Sterilcoat.
This is an anti-microbial powder coating which prevents the spread of dangerous micro-organisms, by significantly reducing microbial activity and suppressing the growth of mould, or 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 Form 1 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, Form 1 is not required. This is usually acceptable and helpful 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 smaller airlines. As the number of passengers flying with reduced mobility increases, being able to help them board and move around an aircraft safely, with dignity, remains our number one priority and something we will continue to do.”