Aviation Access Forum (AAF)—Record of Outcomes—29 April 2015

Date: Wednesday 29 April 2015
Venue: Qantas Meeting Rooms, Terminal 3, Sydney Airport
Time: 9:30am–12:30pm
Attendees: Greg Madson Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) (telephone)
Tony Starkey National Disability Services
(The Royal Society for the Blind) (NDS) (telephone)
Peter Simpson Physical Disability Australia (PDA)
Emma Scanlan Deafness Forum of Australia (Deafness Forum)
Vesna Vinski Qantas
Kim Thurbon Qantas
Lena Katsos Qantas
Joanne Percy Jetstar
Chris Beckwith Virgin Australia
Natalie Fraser Virgin Australia
Andrea Conn Virgin Australia
Kate Grindal Tigerair
Derek Trafford Regional Express (Rex)
Sharen Annand Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA)
Caroline Wilkie Australian Airports Association (AAA)
Grant Mazowita Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)
Bob Griffiths Department of Social Services (DSS) (telephone)
Jim Wolfe Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development (Chair)
Ros Pyett Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development
Guest: Richard Lord Assistance Dogs Australia (ADA)
Apologies: Lauren Henley Australian Human Right Commission (AHRC)
Judy Huett Inclusion Australia (formerly National Council on Intellectual Disability)
Phil Silver Paraquad
Will Tootell Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Edward Barend Regional Aviation Association of Australia (RAAA)
Sonja Wigney Attorney General's Department (AG)
Secretariat: Krishna Kenche Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development

Key Discussion Items

Agenda Item 1

Welcome, acceptance of the draft agenda

The Chair welcomed members and the draft agenda was agreed.

The Chair informed the meeting of the suggestion by the Paraquad representative for more frequent AAF meetings, possible on a monthly basis. However, noting members can raise issues out of session, members agreed that the current biannual arrangement was sufficient.

Previous meeting of the Aviation Access Forum—Outcomes and Action Items

Members endorsed the record of outcomes from the 28 October 2014 meeting of the AAF.

It was noted that the majority of action items from the 28 October 2014 AAF meeting had been completed or would be discussed at this meeting.

In relation to Action Item 2, BARA advised that international airlines receive the majority of their ticket bookings for passengers with a disability over the phone or through travel agents. This is the preferred approach for international airlines as the airline or travel agent staff can assist the passenger through the reservation process.

In relation to Action Item 7, BARA advised that several international airlines are developing DAFPs. BARA also stated that third parties contracted by international airlines, such as ground handling service providers, will also have their own disability access policies in place.

In relation to Action Item 12, Qantas provided the AFDO with information on their security screening policies including the standard security screening procedures for passengers with assistance animals. AFDO has distributed this information to their members for information.

The AFDO also raised that there have been instances where a passenger has been separated from their assistance animal during the security screening process. Members noted that different airports have different security screening practices and procedures in place and often these are managed by a third party. Qantas requested that the AFDO provide specific information about these instances in the future to assist Qantas in their investigations of inconsistent screening practices.

The AAA offered to consult with its members, specifically security screening providers, about the standard practices for screening passengers with assistance animals and passengers with disabilities.

Action 1: The AAA to consult with its members, specifically security screening providers, about the standard practices for screening passengers with assistance animals and passengers with disabilities.

Action 2: The AFDO to provide information to Qantas on specific instances where security screening practices could be improved to assist passengers with assistance animals and passengers with disabilities.

Agenda Item 2: Review of Disability Access Facilitation Plans

The Chair provided a summary of the feedback received from the aviation industry and disability sector through the consultation process for the Disability Access Facilitation Plan (DAFP) Review.

Airline members stated that their DAFPs are constantly evolving as feedback is received and as new policies are implemented. Members of the disability community emphasised the importance of increasing the public's awareness of the DAFP initiative.

The Chair requested that members provide any final written feedback on the draft DAFP Review report to the Secretariat by 29 May 2015.

BARA and AAA advised that they would continue to encourage airlines and airports to ensure their DAFPs are accessible to the public.

The Chair advised that the Department would be finalising the review and its recommendation after any final feedback was received with a view to completing the review by 30 June 2015.

Action 3: Members provide any final written feedback on the DAFP Review report to the Secretariat by 29 May 2015.

Agenda Item 3: Assisting passengers beyond the airport terminal entry/exit

Following the discussion at the 28 October 2014 AAF meeting on the provision of assistance to passengers beyond the terminal entry/exit, the airlines provided a summary of the type and level of assistance that is currently provided to passengers with a disability.

Qantas and Jetstar advised that they are unable to guarantee that passengers would be provided assistance from the kerbside to check-in. Qantas said that they may be able to provide assistance if prior notice is provided but this would be subject to operational conditions. No assistance is provided beyond the terminal entry/exit due to public liability insurance and occupational health and safety.

Virgin Australia stated that resourcing and other operational matters are the main challenge in providing assistance to passengers with a disability.

Virgin Australia advised that they are trialling a pilot programme in which specially trained customer service representatives called “Airport Ambassadors” provide assistance to passengers with a disability. This service is being provided by a third party provider contracted by Virgin Australia.

The service provided to the passenger begins at the gate to the airport car park or other forms of transport. The service is primarily for passengers with a wheelchair but is available to all passengers who require assistance.

The pilot programme is being rolled out in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and the outcome of the trial will inform Virgin Australia's final decision about the future provision of the service.

Tigerair advised that they do not provide kerbside assistance due to resources and operational matters.

Rex advised that their policy is to provide assistance to passengers from the boarding gate to the baggage claim. They are unable to guarantee kerbside assistance due to operational health and safety issues, insurance liabilities and other operational considerations.

The AAA indicated that the main considerations for airports in providing kerbside assistance are the legal issues and resourcing and operational constraints.

Action 4: Virgin Australia to provide a report on progress of the pilot programme at the next meeting.

Agenda Item 4: Wheelchair transfer techniques

The AAF discussed the Change.org petition regarding the difficulty of using the slide board and slide cloth transfer method between airline operator wheelchairs and passengers' personal wheelchairs due to the height difference between the two wheelchairs.

Members discussed the petitioner's concerns about the transfer technique as well as the practicality of the petitioner's solution to use a cushion to ease the transition from the airline wheelchair to the personal wheelchair.

Members concluded that the use of a cushion when transitioning from the aisle wheelchair to the passenger's wheelchair may cause difficulty at another transition point, such as when transferring from the airline seat to the aisle wheelchair which are currently at the same height.

Members noted that some airlines also provide other transfer techniques such as the eagle lifters but this may not be available in all locations.

Members agreed, given the different individual circumstances for wheelchair passengers, that the most appropriate solution would be to encourage the passengers to contact the individual airline's customer service area to discuss possible options that would best suit the passenger's needs.

Action 5: The AAF Secretariat to respond to the petitioner providing advice on the outcome of the AAF discussion.

Agenda Item 5: Other Business

Assistance Animals Regulations and Advisory Circular

CASA advised that the draft regulations and advisory circular relating to the carriage of assistance animals were delayed to take into account the Aviation Safety Regulation Review, released in May 2014, and the Australian Government response, tabled on 3 December 2014.

The new draft regulations for assistance animals are included in Part 91 of the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations (CASRs) which relates to general operating and flight rules. It is expected that the public consultation process for CASR Part 91 will begin by the end of May 2015.

The policy on the carriage of assistance animals in the draft regulations will place responsibility on the airline operator to determine whether an assistance animal may be carried in the cabin, however, a draft advisory circular would provide guidance in what evidence would support carriage of an assistance animal.

Qantas inquired if the draft regulations were based on a risk-assessment. CASA stated the regulations are outcome based regulations and as the procedures will need to be incorporated into the operators' operations handbook a risk assessment would be undertaken at that time.

Action 6: The AAF Secretariat to distribute the draft regulations and the advisory circular to members and assistance dog organisations for comment once the Part 91 consultation process begins.

Review of the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002

The Chair provided an update of the Review of the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002 stating that the Review and the Government response are currently scheduled to be completed by 30 June 2015.

Provision of aisle wheelchairs on aircraft

The Chair advised that the Department had received representations concerning the lack of aisle wheelchairs on-board some flights.

Virgin Australia advised that it has aisle wheelchairs on-board its A330 and B777 aircraft and that it is progressively providing wheelchairs on their E190, A320 and B737 aircraft.

Qantas advised that it has wheelchairs on-board its A330, A380, B737 and B747 aircraft. The B717 and Dash 8 are unable to have on-board wheelchairs due to their size. Qantas advised that customers are provided this information during the booking process and that their customer service team examines alternative options.

Rex and Tiger advised that they do not have on-board wheelchairs. Rex stated that the weight and space restrictions in the Saab aircraft prevent the use of on-board wheelchairs.

Assistance animal facilities at airports

The Chair advised that the Department had received representations encouraging airports to place toileting facilities for assistance animals behind security screening points at airports.

Members noted that the toileting facilities for assistance animals at Brisbane Airport and at Adelaide Airport were after the security screening. Virgin Australia stated that it has requested assistance animal toileting facilities after the security screening in the plans for the development of its new Perth Airport terminal.

Action 7: The AAA will provide advice on any plans for other locations to have assistance animal toileting facilities behind security screening points, including Perth Airport.

Members Issues/Updates

AAA Guidance for Airports

The AAA advised that it is in the early stages of progressing the development of guidance material for airports in providing assistance to passengers with disabilities. The guidance material will include legal obligations as well as best practice information for airports. The AAA will liaise with the Department in the development of this guidance material and plans to release it by the end of 2015.

The AAA also indicated that it was keen to highlight disability assistance issues at its annual conference later this year.

Providing passengers with flight information

The Deafness Forum raised an incident where a passenger with a hearing disability missed their flight as the gate for the flight had changed and the information board was not updated accordingly. The passenger was unable to hear the loudspeaker announcement due to their disability. The Deafness Forum inquired if it is a requirement for airports to have hearing loops for passengers.

The AAA requested additional information about the incident to assist with further investigation.

Action 8: The Deafness Forum to provide the AAA with specific information concerning the incident and the AAA will follow up with advice to members at the next meeting.

Use of ramps to assist passengers boarding aircraft

Qantas advised it has started to provide boarding ramps instead of staircases for their aircraft B717 and Dash-8. The boarding ramps have reduced the number of accidents compared to the use of staircases.

Rex commented that they would be interested in the outcome of this development as Qantas considered the use of ramps at other locations.

Action 9: Qantas to provide an update on the use of boarding ramps for aircraft at the next meeting.

Accessible infrastructure at airports

Physical Disability Australia commented that certain infrastructure at airports impedes travel for passengers with disabilities. An example is at Brisbane Airport where the pick-up and drop-off points for passengers with a disability had a high kerbside which impeded a person with a wheelchair from leaving or entering their car.

Action 10: The AAA to investigate the issue and provide advice at the next meeting.