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Bringing airport accessibility to higher grounds
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Bringing airport accessibility to higher grounds

December 3 of each year marks the International Day of People with Disabilities and an opportunity to reflect on the importance of building a more accessible and inclusive air transport ecosystem. Travellers are not always aware of what goes on behind the scenes and it is worth highlighting how airports have been working with airlines and other aviation partners to provide the best experience possible for all passengers, including those with disabilities. As we saw during the International Airport Summit 2022, recently held at Twickenham Stadium, air travel should be for everyone no matter their age, mobility, or disability.

It is estimated that 1.2 billion people, or between 15%–20% of the world population, live with a disability. Furthermore, by 2050, the number of people aged 60 years and older is estimated to double to 2.1 billion. It is critical that airports and their travel partners adapt their businesses to this growing market segment.

Airports recognise that people with disabilities and reduced mobility, including the aging population, necessitate an immediate focus on the design of accessible infrastructure and an inclusive passenger journey. But still—many people face barriers during their journey and inconsistencies between countries and can benefit from greater airport accessibility. As post-pandemic traffic bounces back, airports and their aviation partners need to overcome the challenges in meeting the needs of all customers, including those with disabilities.

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Bringing airport accessibility to higher grounds
Jean-Sebastien Pard, Senior Manager, Facilitation, Passenger Services and Operations, ACI World tells International Airport Review why it is crucial that airports adapt to the changing passenger demographic and make air travel more inclusive for all, how ACI World is helping airports in this journey, and highlights some fantastic examples from his IAR Summit panellists IGA Istanbul Airport and Winnipeg Richardson Airport.

December 3 of each year marks the International Day of People with Disabilities and an opportunity to reflect on the importance of building a more accessible and inclusive air transport ecosystem. Travellers are not always aware of what goes on behind the scenes and it is worth highlighting how airports have been working with airlines and other aviation partners to provide the best experience possible for all passengers, including those with disabilities. As we saw during the International Airport Summit 2022, recently held at Twickenham Stadium, air travel should be for everyone no matter their age, mobility, or disability.

It is estimated that 1.2 billion people, or between 15%–20% of the world population, live with a disability. Furthermore, by 2050, the number of people aged 60 years and older is estimated to double to 2.1 billion. It is critical that airports and their travel partners adapt their businesses to this growing market segment.

Airports recognise that people with disabilities and reduced mobility, including the aging population, necessitate an immediate focus on the design of accessible infrastructure and an inclusive passenger journey. But still—many people face barriers during their journey and inconsistencies between countries and can benefit from greater airport accessibility. As post-pandemic traffic bounces back, airports and their aviation partners need to overcome the challenges in meeting the needs of all customers, including those with disabilities.

ACI Accessibility Enhancement Accreditation Program
Improving accessibility continues to be important to our airport members who have a shared goal of providing all customers with a welcoming, empowered, and inclusive experience. All journeys should be accessible, navigable, and usable – to the greatest extent possible – by all people, regardless of their age, ability, or disability. A holistic consideration of accessibility and inclusivity through the lens of an end-to-end journey, while addressing the needs of different user groups, is key to the design process of new and existing airport infrastructure.

In 2019, ACI World’s highest body, the World Annual General Assembly, adopted a milestone resolution which affirmed the commitment of airports globally to continuously strive for excellence in customer service and experience, including accessibility for passengers with disabilities.

More recently, ACI launched at the Customer Experience Global Summit in Krakow last September the Accessibility Enhancement Accreditation (AEA) program designed to help airports assess their accessibility and disability inclusion practices. Several accessibility advocacy groups, airports, industry partners, and ACI collaborated in the development of the program. The first-of-its-kind program provides a continuous path of improvement for airports in the area of accessibility for passengers with disabilities. This program assists airports in implementing existing global best practices and recommendations, including those put forward in the ACI Airports and Persons with Disabilities Handbook.

One of ACI’s pillars of its accessibility strategy is to help our members share and adopt best practices and to recognise leading airports in this area. For this reason, the AEA questionnaire considers barriers that passengers may face in their overall traveller experience, which can include activities involving other airport partners within the entire airport journey (e.g., airlines, border authorities, ground handlers, etc.). The questionnaire is also outcomes-based—that is, it is based on goals and desired outcomes as established by the program. It also avoids prescriptive measures that may not be appropriate for all airports around the world. Finally, the questionnaire focuses on airport accessibility policies, culture, governance, staff training, collaboration with disability groups, and the overall customer experience in terms of collecting feedback.

Furthermore, we are pleased to have received support from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations organisation specialised in aviation, for the launch of the program.

New resolution on accessibility at the ICAO 41st Assembly
On the regulatory side, ACI continues to work with governments through ICAO to enhance the global regulatory framework. A set of common standards and recommended practices related to accessibility already exist in the ICAO Facilitation Annex 9. An efficient, consistent regulatory framework is key, as it ensures that persons with disabilities’ fundamental rights are respected. Many governments have a strong legal framework in place to reduce barriers and increase opportunities for people with disabilities to ensure their full participation in society.

A recent milestone has been the adoption of the first ICAO Resolution on accessibility of air transport to persons with disabilities and persons with reduced mobility, spearheaded by ACI and developed in cooperation with several governments and industry partners. The Resolution recognises that dignity and non-discrimination are universal rights that apply to all persons and requests the development of an effective ICAO strategy and work program on accessibility.

There is much work ahead, but regulations should not be seen as a ceiling that airports and industry must reach. Instead, ICAO Resolutions and Standards and Recommended Practices, like national regulations, are essential foundations of providing a basic level of expectations for persons with disabilities.

Re-humanising the airport accessibility experience
Customer experience execution is about creating positive emotions, delivering an experience fitting to expectations, and strengthening the emotional bond between the traveller and the airport. In the past 24 months, the lack of human interactions has highlighted the importance of human-to-human services. Passengers, employees, and airport stakeholders are all looking for positive and meaningful human experiences within airports.

The COVID-19 pandemic reminded us how for some – principally older people or those living with a visible or non-apparent disability – travel can be inherently stressful and difficult, or even impossible. Not only is creating an inclusive and accessible experience for all the right thing to do, it also makes business sense; it welcomes more travellers and facilitates the associated purchase of products and services, in turn improving commercial outcomes for airports. What’s more, a better customer experience is usually associated with increases in non-aeronautical revenues (NAR) for airports (e.g., food and beverage, shopping, duty-free). In this way, an inclusive airport experience contributes to the vitality and viability of the airport…

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