To understand how manufacturers and ground handlers design and implement PRM-related equipment, Airside spoke to a few of them to assess their offerings
It is clear that equipment suitable for meeting the needs of passengers with restricted mobility (PRM) is vitally important for airlines, and can be seen perhaps as a quantifiable measurement of how well an airline and its ground handlers accommodate the former’s passenger customers.
For example, in monthly performance reports published by Gatwick Airport, the successful use of PRM-related equipment stands next to other important statistics like on-time performance and the time taken for passengers to access their luggage.
ProMove, based in Wales, manufactures PRM kits for airlines. Dana Thomas, director of ProMove UK, describes how one of these kits works: “The ProMove Airport (PRM) kit provides a safe and dignified means of transferring passengers with reduced mobility, avoiding putting passengers and airport service staff at risk of injury.
“The ProMove sling is supplied in a kit especially for airports and airlines; the kit includes a disabled sling, eight extension handles and bag. The extension handles are simply attached to the sling handles when required to assist in handling heavier passengers and if you need to move a passenger with reduced mobility up or down a flight of steps.
“The bag has straps and buckles so that it can be attached to the aisle chair, ensuring the sling and handles are always to hand.”
Thomas explains how this kit differs from other PRM equipment. “This is an innovative disabled lifting sling that is incredibly light and portable, and enables a transfer/lift that is safe, comfortable and dignified.
“The sling is shaped in a way such that it can be placed under an individual in a seated position; it then supports the individual’s body without bruising or shearing. The strategically placed handles and the unique rubber handles ensure a good handhold for all operatives involved, making transferring easier and less hazardous, and reducing [the likelihood of any] musculoskeletal injury.”
There is no question that safety is the paramount concern for PRM equipment. How is this achieved? In this case: “UK airport service providers use ProMove slings to move passengers with reduced mobility, transferring PRMs from their wheelchair into an aisle chair and then into the aircraft seat, maximising comfort and minimising the risk of injury to the passenger and staff. Adoption of the ProMove Airport kit for handling PRM provides safer working conditions for staff, thereby complying with health and safety requirements and manual handling regulations.”
To promote the use of safe processes, ground handlers undergo training such that PRM equipment is used correctly. Thomas explains that “special assistance teams at all airports that provide the ProMove Airport kits are specially trained to use the equipment, and it is the responsibility of the airport service providers to provide the training.”
Thomas also points out that getting the thoughts of airports and/or their relevant service providers using the equipment is vital, adding: “Feedback from airport service providers has been positive regarding the equipment – they note the fact that it is simple and easy to use, making transferring of passengers more comfortable and quicker, as well as making the process safer for all staff involved.”
Regarding the future of handling PRM equipment, Thomas opines: “At airports, the controversial top-and-tail lift that is currently widely used by special assistance staff can no longer be defended on the grounds that there is no alternative. The ProMove sling offers an inexpensive means of eliminating the use of the top-and-tail lift, and provides a far safer, more comfortable and dignified alternative.”
Denge Airport Equipment also manufactures PRM-related equipment at its facilities in Turkey: a range of ambulifts that offer a more mechanical solution to the challenge of lifting passengers and one that allows a much higher lift than by manual means.
Murat Denge, the company’s managing director, explains that Denge PRM equipment, “has a lot of advantages, but the most important feature is the high service range of the Dengelift – from 1.3m up to 5.8m – which allows it to service almost all aircraft.
“Thus, handlers do not need to consider which GSE to allocate to which aircraft – just release the Denge ambulift onto the ramp and let it serve all flights. On the other hand, the unit is manufactured with parts which are available in almost all worldwide markets; thus, handlers do not sit and wait for the manufacturer to provide servicing or wait for the parts to arrive.”
He continues: “Since the Dengelift unit is manufactured on a plug-and-play basis, it is very easy to analyse the hydraulic and electric systems in case of any failure. Although the warranty claim rate almost close to 0% on this unit, in such an incident, technicians will be able to source and identify the problem. The unit is speed-limited: operators cannot over-speed, which improves safety and minimises the rate of accidents.
“Moreover, a ramp traffic accident with a commercial truck creates the need for a lot of parts to be sourced from the OEM [original equipment manufacturer], whilst Denge’s PRM unit does not require any specific parts to be sourced from us. Alongside the speed limitation, operators also do not need a driver’s licence at most airports, since the unit is not mounted on a commercial chassis.”
When asked what sets his company’s equipment apart, Murat Denge observes: “The most discriminating feature is that there is no other product in the market that serves this much range: even some that are stated as being able to do so have operational disadvantages or high costs. This is also a discriminating feature: at its sales price, the unit is unique in the market from the aspect of what you pay, what you get.
“The unit is fully equipped with safety features that are required by the International Air Transport Association’s Airport Handling Manual (AHM). Besides which, there are hydraulic locks for free falls, safety chains for rear platform free fall with additional hydraulic locks, rear safety doors with switches, front extractable platform with switches and hydraulic pressure circuit for safety.
“Moreover, the new AHM which requires the application of a system of safe docking to aircraft is also now applied to the unit through extra sensors and electrical circuits, with automatic parking brake and all other relevant components – all of which creates a safe docking operation by reducing the speed of the unit at certain distances to the aircraft.”
The equipment is of particular value to airport handlers as it is easy to operate, Murat Denge notes. He details: “The unit is extremely user-friendly and ramp staff can easily operate it, since all the features prevent operators from making mistakes. Thus training is not necessary, which also reflects on the price of the unit as a discount. However, since at most gateways airport authorities force handlers to complete training records, we are also giving training most of the time.”
“Where operational training is a must, we give the maintenance and troubleshooting training free of charge, even though these are detailed clearly in the user manuals. Plus, we have a 7/24 call support service available for customers.”
Murat Denge concludes: “I believe the comfort of the drive of the unit, as well as interior decoration, should be more similar to those of vans or minibuses; thus we have also developed a unit with a VIP interior design with smoother suspension.”
Taking the strain
Returning to the UK and to a supplier of smaller, specialist PRM equipment, Evac+Chair International produces the Air+Chair, specifically designed to “facilitate the movement of passengers with reduced mobility along narrow aircraft aisles and confined spaces”, according to Gerard Wallace, the managing director of the company.
The Air+Chair is also suitable for use during a flight as it can be pushed down the aisle of an aircraft. It is perfectly suited to on-board storage, being easily maneuvred on its own castor wheels.
Evac+Chair International currently sells the Air+Chair to a number of airlines, including easyJet and AirAsia, and the specifications of the chair are in accordance with the EC Regulation L 204/1 No 1107/2006. Wallace describes the Air+Chair as lightweight, but intelligently designed to be able to support good weight. It includes a foldable backrest, seat and footrests, and it meets the minimum dimensional specifications of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), which advises the UK Government on transport legislation and regulations relating to the transportation needs of disabled people. Air+Chair also meets US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flame-retardancy regulations.
Evac+Chair International specialises in evacuation chairs and transportation equipment, and says that it ensures that passengers with restricted mobility are looked after every step of the way. This is why, it notes, the company offers training and servicing of its equipment in addition to the initial product.
As with so many of the other operations carried out on an airport ramp, safety is top of the list when it comes to the design and manufacture of GSE equipment. As innovation and technological advancement drives change in GSE manufacturing, PRM equipment providers are clearly looking to better service, and to increase the comfort of passengers with restricted mobility.