FAA Reauthorization Act Features All Wheels Up Initiatives for Improving and Achieving Accessible Air Travel for Wheelchair Users  

Contact: Michele Erwin

Phone: (917) 414-0897

                                                                            FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

                                                                            May 16, 2024


FAA Reauthorization Act Features All Wheels Up Initiatives for Improving and Achieving Accessible Air Travel for Wheelchair Users  

The bill, which President Biden is scheduled to sign into law, contains measures advocated for by All Wheels Up, including a mandate for standardized training for employees assisting passengers who use wheelchairs and research initiatives to get a “wheelchair spot” on commercial airplanes.

FRISCO, TX – All Wheels Up (AWU), the first non -profit organization in the world to fund research and development for a wheelchair spot on commercial aircraft, celebrates the 2024 bipartisan Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act, which was signed into law today. This bill grants funding for the FAA to continue its role and responsibilities for five more years and includes several accessibility measures that wheelchair users will applaud. These elements further AWU’s vision establishing a wheelchair spot on commercial airplanes and are due in part to AWU’s continued advocacy and work with members of Congress, staff, the Department of Transportation, and other stakeholders.

The bill includes several elements directly affecting wheelchair users and those with disabilities.

  1. Expansion of the Advanced Materials Center of Excellence. This subsection expands the Center’s responsibilities to conduct “research and development into aircraft structure crash worthiness and passenger safety, as well as address safe and accessible air travel of individuals with a disability, including materials required to facilitate safe wheelchair restraint systems on commercial aircraft,” according to the bill.
  2. A “roadmap” on the feasibility of in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems and a study on economic and financial feasibility of wheelchair spots on airplanes. The Secretary of Transportation is mandated to produce a “strategic roadmap,” or plan, in exactly one year that shows how a wheelchair restraint system could be safely employed in a commercial airplane cabin. If implementation of a wheelchair restraint system is deemed doable, the Secretary of Transportation is required to oversee a study on the economic and financial feasibility of air carriers to implement wheelchair spot on airplanes. The study would consider cost, demand, operations, and other implementation factors.
  3. Training standards for airline personnel and contractors who assist wheelchair users. The federal government will now mandate that any airline employee or contractor operating in the United States who assists wheelchair users must complete training. While the specifics of the training are yet to be determined, the training will need to instruct employees on wheelchair and seat transfers and “how to take instruction from the passenger.”

“This FAA Reauthorization is a win for wheelchair users and addresses multiple areas of air travel that need improvement,” said Michele Erwin, the president and founder of All Wheels Up. “We are celebrating this bipartisan bill while steadfastly continuing to build a future where wheelchair users such as my colleagues, friends, and son can fly while seated in their own wheelchairs.”

Several components of this bill specifically written for wheelchair users were initiatives proposed by AWU.

“Many of these reforms build upon the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which All Wheels Up also helped shape,” noted Alan Chaulet, vice president of All Wheels Up. “This wave of progress is thanks to years of collaboration and hard work with a variety of people who share our view that commercial air travel needs to change.”

All Wheels Up has long urged that airport and airline personnel should be specifically instructed on how to facilitate wheelchair users transferring from a custom seat to an aisle chair and then to their designated cabin seat. Training also needs to include listening to the passengers who know their abilities, disability, and what is safest for them.

“When traveling by air, passengers who use wheelchairs assume personal risks above that of the average flyer due largely to the need to physically transfer,” said Steve Cullen, board chair of All Wheels Up. “To protect passengers’ personal health, safety, and dignity, airport and airline personnel who assist wheelchair users need to be trained on standards of care and best practices, which includes listening to the passenger with a disability on what works for their wellbeing.”

“While the bill was being drafted in 2023, we were advocating for training designed and taught by occupational therapists, professionals who are well versed in transfers, designing safe activity, and working with people with disabilities,” added Dr. Alexandra Bruce, occupational therapist and board member. “We think the approach to training should be no different than teaching CPR which is standardized and universally understood.”

In conjunction with organizations and academic institutions such as the National Institute for Aviation Research, All Wheels Up has organized, funded, and helped conduct multiple studies to test if wheelchairs currently on the market could withstand the horizontal and vertical forces of an emergency landing, exactly how force is distributed with the added weight and configuration of a wheelchair aboard a cabin, and whether wheelchair restraint systems currently available could hold a wheelchair in place just as securely as plane seats are bolted to a cabin floor.

“We know the FAA will need to conduct its own independent safety tests to replicate the testing that we have done, but our research was scientifically designed by experts and engineers, conducted at an FAA approved facility, and shows that safely securing even heavy electric wheelchairs to the cabin floor is safe, feasible, and fairly straightforward,” said Erwin. “Including research in this reauthorization bill will help enable the government to prove these results for themselves and give them the results needed to act.”

Momentum is increasing for All Wheels Up and those advocating for more accessible travel. “We are especially very grateful for the support of passionate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, like Senators Duckworth and Moran, and their dedicated staff,” said Erwin.


About All Wheels Up

Established in 2011, All Wheels Up (AWU) is the first non-profit organization in the world to fund research and development for a “wheelchair spot” on commercial aircraft. The not-for-profit organization works with airline carriers, aircraft manufacturers, and lawmakers to make airplanes wheelchair accessible for the millions of people who depend on them for mobility and safe seating. AWU’s mission is to forge a future with safer and more dignified accessible air travel through research, advocacy, and community outreach.