Airbus explores a new cabin innovation for passengers with limited mobility

Making the freedom of flight possible is one of Airbus’ core values – a main reason why the company is working with wheelchair users to find an innovative lavatory solution for those with limited mobility. 

Visiting the lavatory in-flight can be a complicated and unpleasant process for wheelchair users – often requiring assistance from travelling companions to get on the on-board wheelchair, as well as for transfer from the wheelchair into the lavatory.

As a result, a team at Airbus in Hamburg, Germany is participating in a joint project focused on developing a new on-board wheelchair that will provide more independence for passengers with limited mobility. The cantilever-style chair on wheels has a specially shaped seat that makes it possible to roll the chair directly over the toilet so that the passenger does not need to transfer.

The on-board wheelchair’s design is based on a concept from the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW). Airbus’ ProtoSpace operation – a facility that provides the environment, means and tools to develop disruptive concepts and accelerate innovation – has provided support for prototyping.

This cabin mobility innovation results from a workshop hosted this summer that collected experiences, requirements and requests from wheelchair users at Elbe-Werkstätten, a Hamburg-area organisation specialized in creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Project members rapidly developed a working prototype of the chair – which requires no structural changes to the aircraft lavatory – in just three weeks. Airbus Cabin & Cargo Engineering department created the design, the ProtoSpace team supplied the technical prototyping knowledge and apprentices and trainers from Airbus produced the demonstrator.

“In the development phase, we focused our attention on the user and were able to produce the demonstrator quickly by applying agile working methods,” explained ProtoSpace project manager Bessem Ayari.

Following its short development, the wheelchair was field-tested with the Airbus Rapid Architecture Lab’s lavatory mock-up by wheelchair users from Elbe-Werkstätten, who provided rave reviews: the design is easy to handle, stable and safe.

The wheelchair also received positive feedback during its public debut this summer at a conference on new aircraft standards hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation. “Participants from the government, airlines, aircraft manufacturers and organisations representing people with disabilities were impressed at how quickly Airbus produced a prototype, and that wheelchair users contributed directly to the design,” says Hans-Gerhard Giesa, Airbus’ Head of Human Factors & Operations.

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