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Breaking Barriers: Air Mobility and EVTOL for an Inclusive Sky

| Tags: Human Factors & Ergonomics, Accessibility & Inclusive Design

In the kaleidoscope of technological innovation, Air Mobility and Electric Vehicle Take-Off and Landing (EVTOL) emerge as the leaders of a transportation revolution. The EVTOL industry is rapidly advancing globally, with prototypes undergoing successful testing, planning implementations being carried out in countries such as Singapore, Paris and Dubai and the market gaining momentum.

Unlike traditional flight options using airports with fixed runways requiring large areas of space, EVTOL envisions a network of flexible flight with Vertiports (EVTOL’s version of an Airport) and landing pads distributed across urban landscapes where a flight can be boarded like catching a bus or hailing taxi. While the prospect of soaring through the skies captivates our imagination, it is crucial to shine a spotlight on the importance of accessibility and inclusivity.

One billion people - that’s 15% of the world’s population - live with some sort of disability, so ensuring equal access to travel is not just simply the right thing to do, from an ethical standpoint, but it is also good business. What is commonly forgotten is that those 15% also have friends and family affected by poor accessibility design. Imagine a wheelchair user who wants to travel with their family of four. If the EVTOL design does not accommodate wheelchair users then all four of those potential passengers will find an alternative that accommodates them all.

The EVTOL industry has the perfect opportunity to rise above others and show them how accessibility should be done. If not, this industry could be grounded before it even takes off!

The call to action is clear: from the booking stage to the journey itself and the transition to and from the Vertiports, embracing accessibility and inclusivity now will unlock the full potential of this revolutionary mode of transportation for everyone. It's not just about EVTOL; it's about shaping a future where the sky is open to all.

An image of an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft taking off in front of a cityscape
An image of an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft taking off in front of a cityscape

Everyone’s journey starts before they travel

Before setting off, passengers may want to research how they will travel and then book their chosen mode of transport. The booking process itself should be a seamless and inclusive experience and allow passengers to pre-book any assistance they may need in advance. Online platforms must adhere to accessibility standards, ensuring that individuals using assistive technologies can effortlessly navigate through the options, select preferences, and secure their seat in the sky.

While we recognise that other transport modes are not fully accessible yet, there are examples where operators in parallel industries have implemented useful services to help passengers requiring support such as:

  • Uber Access: Uber's Access service ensures inclusive transportation by providing accessible vehicles for individuals with mobility needs with their app featuring an option to request wheelchair-accessible rides.

  • British Airways: British Airways’ website and mobile app features options for passengers with visual or hearing impairments. The airline also provides services for passengers requiring special assistance during travel.

  • Eurostar: Eurostar's website ensures accessibility compliance, featuring adjustable text sizes, clear navigation, and information on station facilities for travelers with accessible needs. The company also offers assistance services for their passengers throughout their journey.

  • Heathrow Airport: Heathrow's website prioritises accessibility, providing information on facilities, services, and assistance options for passengers with accessible needs. The airport aims to make the entire travel experience inclusive and accommodating.

  • National Rail (UK): National Rail's online platform ensures accessibility with features like text-to-speech functionality and clear navigation. It provides comprehensive information on station facilities, assistance services, and accessible travel options.

Considerations for accessible booking systems go beyond the digital realm. Physical booking counters in the Vertiports should be equipped with staff trained to assist individuals with varying needs. Clear signage, tactile maps, and audible information should be available to guide passengers through the process, empowering them to independently engage with the EVTOL booking experience.

Chris Avis, Principal Human Factors Consultant Mima

Unfolding the Physical Journey

As passengers approach the Vertiport, the physical journey continues. Ramps, elevators, and accessible pathways become the arteries that connect ground transportation to the air. Vertiports must be designed with universal accessibility, allowing individuals to navigate seamlessly from check-in counters to security checkpoints and beyond.

The waiting area within the Vertiport should not be an afterthought. Spacious seating, accessible restrooms, and amenities catering to diverse needs contribute to a holistic and accommodating pre-flight environment. By addressing these elements, the Vertiport becomes a gateway to inclusivity, setting the stage for an EVTOL experience that is welcoming to all.

Examples of accessibility issues currently within the aviation industry include:

  • Poorly placed, inadequate or unclear signs within airports. Poorly placed or unclear signs can create confusion and hinder independent navigation for passengers with diverse needs.

  • Limited elevator and escalator availability. This can pose significant challenges for passengers with mobility impairments who rely on these facilities for vertical movement within airports.

  • Insufficient seating, particularly in waiting areas. Inadequate seating can be problematic for passengers with mobility challenges or those who require additional rest periods during their travels. Armrests also provide crucial support for passengers with mobility issues when sitting down or standing up.

  • Inconsistent flooring materials. Uneven surfaces can impede the smooth movement of assistive devices, affecting the overall accessibility of the terminal and potentially create difficulties for passengers with mobility aids or wheelchairs.

  • Complex layouts and lack of clear wayfinding. Makeing it challenging for passengers with cognitive impairments or those unfamiliar with the airport to navigate effectively.

  • Accessibility concerns regarding restroom facilities. This can pose significant challenges for passengers who require accessible facilities for personal care.

  • Insufficient lighting levels, particularly in certain corridors and gate areas. Poor lighting can be problematic for passengers with visual impairments, affecting their ability to navigate safely through the terminal.

  • Information displays, with unclear or non-accessible flight information. This can be particularly problematic for passengers with visual impairments who rely on accurate and timely information.

Boarding and In-Flight Experience

The transition from the Vertiport to the EVTOL itself is a critical juncture. Boarding ramps, lifts, and boarding procedures must be designed to facilitate a smooth and dignified entry for all.

Current EVTOL design focuses on size, efficiency, safety, and urban integration such as noise reduction and environmental impact but all designs currently released to the public seem to only accommodate able-bodied passengers. This highlights a common theme within the aviation industry where passengers that require assistance seem to be an afterthought.

In terms of the physical space inside the vehicles, the interior should accommodate diverse mobility aids (including wheelchairs), ensuring that passengers can seamlessly transition to their designated seats. Given the required space for mobility aids, it is recognised that this poses significant challenges for the industry but is completely achievable with the correct methodical approach, and if considered from the beginning of the concept phase. Controls and displays should be positioned for easy access, and communication systems (if required) should be intuitive and adaptable.

Consideration should also be given to the need for a toilet during a flight, taking into account flight duration and space required for accessibility. Currently the CAA states that accessible toilets must be provided on long haul flights, however it is common for people to need to go to the toilet more than once in a 60 minute duration, so regardless of what the guidelines state, accessible toilets are a necessary human right and should not be judged purely on flight duration. Taking inspiration from designs such as Airbus’ SpaceFlex accessible toilet would prevent passengers from any chance of humiliation from not being able to use a toilet on the flight.

Addressing these aspects right from the beginning is crucial to the overall success of the industry.

Deboarding and Ground Transportation

Deboarding ramps, accessible exits, and ground transportation options must be meticulously designed to ensure a dignified and barrier-free exit.

Ground transportation should be seamlessly integrated into the overall journey. Whether it's hailing an accessible ride-sharing service or utilising the Vertiport's designated transport options, passengers should have a range of choices that cater to their unique needs.

In the spirit of inclusivity, collaboration between EVTOL manufacturers, Vertiport designers, and transportation providers is essential. Co-designing solutions with a diverse range of passengers ensures that every aspect of the journey, from booking to arrival at their destination, leaves them feeling independent and empowered.

As we embark on this airborne revolution, let's not merely aim for the skies; let's aim for a future where the entire journey is an inclusive and liberating experience. By addressing the intricacies of the EVTOL process, Air Mobility becomes a symbol of progress that breaks down barriers and opens the door to an expansive and accessible sky.

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