Denver-based seating manufacturer Molon Labe has unveiled a prototype of a new airline seat that will allow Passengers of Restricted Mobility (PRMs) to fly on airlines in their own wheelchairs.

    Currently, passengers in wheelchairs cannot fly in them; they must transfer from their wheelchair into a Skychair to get down the narrow aisle and then transfer again into their airline seat.

    Disabled access for air travel is “immensely challenging at best and dehumanising at worst” and is the reason that many people with disabilities avoid air travel completely, according to Molon Labe.

    The problems encountered include wheelchairs getting damaged when transported in cargo bays of aircraft; PRM injuries caused during transfers; loss of independence as PRMs must leave their own chair; little-to-no access to the bathroom in-flight; and inability to perform regular body extensions/therapy in-flight, which many powered wheelchairs can do.

    Solution based on proven design

    The solution the company has come up with is based on the proven Side-Slip Seat design, but it is modified from a standard economy-class triple seat to a very wide economy-class double seat.

    During normal operations, it is a normal economy-class seat, but when required, the aisle seat is slid over the top of the window seat and locked into place for normal use.

    The space opened by sliding the aisle seat over the top of the window seat offers a 36”-wide space to secure a manual or powered wheelchair in place. A Q-Straint wheelchair docking system, already widely used on buses and trains, is used to secure the wheelchair to the aircraft cabin floor.

    One advantage of this design is that airlines do not lose any revenue or real estate, which has been an issue with previous designs attempting to address this problem. Another benefit is that PRMs are flying in their own wheelchairs, which often house many accessibility features specific to their needs.

    Number of disabled air passengers rising rapidly

    Working alongside Molon Labe to bring the project to life is global transport and hospitality design company JPA Design, whose managing director Ben Orson commented

    “Power wheelchair users have an approximate spend globally of $3.9bn and the desire to spend this on travel has never been stronger.

    “IATA forecasts passenger numbers doubling by 2036 to 7.8 billion per year, pro rata disabled travellers are rising at approximately 10 per cent a year. We want to create a space to allow power wheelchair users to fly safely and with dignity inside the cabin in their own wheelchair.”

    Molon Labe Seating CEO Hank Scott explained how the public can help.

    “It costs millions to design and certify an airline seat. We are a small start-up with limited resources and our recently certified S1 economy-class seat is our main focus right now. We chose to crowdfund this project so we can get it certified and in the air as soon as possible, we want to be flying within 18 months but we need the public’s help.”

    To this end, Molon Labe has launched a GoFundMe campaign called #flyingwheelchairs to expedite the design, engineering, analysis and certification of this seat.

    To donate, visit gofundme.com/f/flyingwheelchairs.