PriestmanGoode has worked with UK-based consortium Air 4 All and Delta Flight Products (DFP) to create an airplane seat that aims to make flying easier for powered wheelchair users by allowing them to remain in their wheelchair on the flight.
The studio has previously worked in the personal mobility space, most recently on a transportation device designed to improve the airport experience for those with mobility issues. This latest project began in 2019, when PriestmanGoode started to develop the concept for the aircraft seat alongside aircraft accessibility advocate and Flying Disabled founder Chris Wood, certification and regulatory partner SWS Certification and wheelchair designer and manufacturer Sunrise Medical.
A powered wheelchair is a bespoke and expensive piece of equipment “tailored to the requirements and posture of the user”, so spending time in a different seat for several hours could result in injury and require “hospital treatments”, says PriestmanGoode director Daniel MacInnes. He claims that there have also been reports of powered wheelchairs being “irreparably damaged during handling into the hold of an aircraft”.
Some wheelchair users might choose not to travel at all because of these barriers, says MacInnes, and those who do are “usually last or first to board, extending their journey time”.
One of the challenges was that interior aviation design is “subject to stringent certification”, says MacInnes, adding that the Air 4 All aircraft seat is designed to meet these requirements.
The Air 4 all seat allows a powered wheelchair user to remain in their wheelchair during the flight, through a system that enables the wheelchair to be “securely attached”, says MacInnes. It aims to offer wheelchair users “the same experience as other passengers” as they can avoid “the indignity” of being moved from their own wheelchair to an airline seat, he adds.
The aircraft seat also includes a headrest and cocktail table that can be adjusted to match the height of the wheelchair.
The product could not only improve access for wheelchair users, but also open “a commercial opportunity for airlines” as they would be appealing to a group who are currently excluded, according to MacInnes. Maximising space onboard an aircraft is another commercial consideration for airlines, which the Air 4 All seat seeks to maintain.
If the seat is not booked by a wheelchair user, MacInnes says it can “convert to a seat for other passengers with equal comfort and functionality”. PriestmanGoode opted for a simple design so that crew can convert the seat without engineering or maintenance support.
MacInnes adds that the design also “enables customisation including trim and finish”, meaning there is a consistent design language across the cabin.
The working prototype of the seat was revealed at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg this week. Next steps will involve finalising design decisions, applying for “regulatory certification” and testing to provide the regulators with the relevant data, says MacInnes. Following the success of the testing, the seat will move to flight trials.