Flying towards a more accessible airport experience

It’s an exciting time for innovation in air mobility and aviation. Over the past year Connected Places Catapult has been hard at work identifying challenges and opportunities for the sector, particularly around sustainability, and each has its own way of unlocking the potential for UK business growth.

One highlight has been the recent focus of our Future of Air Mobility Accelerator which is targeted at companies providing innovative solutions in data driven aviation, smart airports and advanced air mobility.

However, one challenge stood out to the Connected Places Catapult team and our sector stakeholders: how to optimise the experience of all airport users. We wanted to explore how stakeholders across the ecosystem can collaborate to make airports – and by implication, aviation – more accessible.

The challenge of accessibility deserved a deep dive. We wanted to understand accessibility of the current air travel experience, from the perspective of the traveller. We also looked at the challenges faced in terms of delivering accessible air travel at UK airports, from the perspectives of airports, airlines, contracted assistance service providers and organisations developing interventions for accessible travel.

We then set about identifying actions which support more accessible air travel, before finally considering the enablers and barriers to both innovating and adopting new accessibility concepts.

Connected Places Catapult has spoken to the travelling public, disability travel advocates, airlines, airports, and SMEs (small to medium sized enterprises) developing interventions via interviews, including two airport site visits and a stakeholder workshop. While we know we are only scratching the surface of this multi-layered, complex, but pressing issue, we needed to gather a set of opportunity areas upon which to focus further research and trials.

And what better way to learn more than through a living lab methodology?

A living lab could play host to technologies, systems and processes designed to enhance passenger experience and freight management. It could boost productivity and accelerate the decarbonisation of ground and air operations, including the electrification of flight, the use of hydrogen, automation, data analytics and multi-modal, connected surface-level access. This is why Connected Places Catapult and Glasgow Airport were so excited to announce the UK’s first Connected Airport Living Lab in February this year.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority, airlines, UK airports and Catapult value the importance of providing an accessible experience for all those travelling through the airport. The living lab provides an exciting opportunity for stakeholders to review concept demonstrators of accessibility provision and to provide feedback on the value of these. Later this year we look forward to testing the new applications and interventions which will both enhance and provide a more inclusive air travel experience.

Accessibility: a fundamental right

A focus on accessibility needs should be grounded in a fundamental right that all travellers are able to access air travel. This is laid out by the EC regulation 1107/2006, the law still adopted by the UK, which states that: “the single market for air services should benefit citizens in general. Consequently, disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility, whether caused by disability, age or any other factor, should have opportunities for air travel comparable to those of other citizens. Disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility have the same right as all other citizens to free movement, freedom of choice and non-discrimination. This applies to air travel as to other areas of life.”

In the same EC regulation, a ‘disabled person’, ‘person with reduced mobility’ or ‘person with reduced mobility’ means any person whose mobility when using transport is reduced due to any physical disability (sensory or locomotor, permanent or temporary), intellectual disability or impairment, or any other cause of disability, or age, and whose situation needs appropriate attention and the adaptation to his or her particular needs of the service made available to all passengers.

Needless to say, improving accessibility provision at UK airports has one primary benefit: that travellers are more able to seemlessly pass through an airport taking advantage of all the shops and facilities whilst on their way to board. In turn, this improves passenger experience by reducing stress and anxiety.

There are wider social benefits from opening up the opportunity to fly, plus economic benefits ranging from optimising operational efficiency, boosting brand perception and increasing revenue. In addition, significantly for the Catapult, there is market benefit, sharing the potential for a vibrant market to emerge for solutions that enhance accessibility for all.

Where should we start?

We think there are a set of opportunity areas to develop further and in collaboration with airports and the Connected Airport Living Lab:

  • How do we work across the sector to further apply a person-centred approach to providing provisions to support accessible travel?
  • How can we raise greater awareness of travel rights and accessible travel provisions available to passengers?
  • How can we streamline the request process?
  • Are there ways to provide travellers with greater autonomy and flexibility when providing assistance services?
  • How might we optimise the interaction between airport staff with travellers and their companion(s)?
  • How can we optimise navigation and use of physical space in airports?
  • What can we do to consider the impact of interactions with other passengers?
  • How can we manage the expectations and operations of embarking and disembarking aircraft?
  • How can we ensure that mobility and accessibility aids are handled with care and respect?
  • In all this work, how can we better connect stakeholders and expertise to better evaluate and promote best practice airport accessibility provisions?

What next?

It is time to work with airports and the user community to shape the future airport transport hub. We have a starting point with a set of concepts developed by SMEs addressing some of the challenges, plus the continuation of engagement with stakeholders – shaped by the airport, user groups and by disabled people themselves.

There’s more to come in the next year as we develop out the Connected Airport Living Lab. Keep up to date with developments here or you can contact me at