Association says new proposal will hit smaller operators with unbearable extra costs

The European Regions Airline Association (ERA) is preparing for its next battle with the European Commission as new rules on disabled access are drawn up.

The ERA, which is leading four airline associations in a last-ditch attempt to change passenger compensation legislation, says a new proposal on access for passengers with reduced mobility (PRM) is likely to impose unbearable extra costs on smaller operators.

The EC is working on proposals for the legislation, and a first draft is expected by the end of the year. The EC is collaborating with the European Disability Forum to "harmonise measures already in place in most airports" for PRMs.

ERA director of air transport policy Andrew Clarke says early indications as to the draft's content ignore the practical considerations of turboprop operators and airlines serving small airports. The ERA is urging the EC to commission a thorough impact-assessment study, taking into account the views of smaller carriers before publication.

"Wheelchair access to onboard toilets poses a huge issue to many regionals," he says. Many turboprops cannot be modified to accommodate a disabled toilet without losing several seats, he adds.

An example is Scandinavian regional carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle, which was forced to reverse its policy of refusing passengers in electric wheelchairs and had to phase out its fleet of six Fokker 50s due to their small baggage compartments. It is terminating several public service obligation routes as a result.

Other measures expected in the proposal are low-level counters at all airports, braille timetables and adaptation of cargo lifts for wheelchairs. "As with all legislation, this bill should be proportional to the problem and not over-specify solutions," says Clarke.

Source: Flight International