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AIX: ATR proposes audio loop for hearing-impaired passengers

Turboprop manufacturer ATR has unveiled a hearing loop system to help hard-of-hearing passengers better understand crew announcements on board aircraft.

Such systems are widely employed in public areas like cinemas, retail outlets, municipal buildings and buses, but have not yet been adopted by aircraft manufacturers and airlines, ATR vice-president marketing Zuzana Hrnkova told FlightGlobal at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg on 2 April.

The system works by means of an induction loop, which converts electric audio signals from a microphone or sound system into a magnetic signal. This can be picked up by hearing aids with telecoils – standard equipment since the mid-1990s – and reconverted in to electric audio signals.

ATR has installed the loop of its prototype system Audioback into a removable headrest, but Hrnkova says that equipment can be installed elsewhere in the cabin in order to transmit audio content from the aircraft’s public address system.

The manufacturer is evaluating how the system can be made available for passengers – on selected seats, in certain areas or across the cabin. Passengers with hearing aids would need to be seated relatively close to a loop.

Hrnkova says that passengers with hearing aids frequently switch them off before boarding aircraft, as ambient sounds tend to be amplified through the devices and become a nuisance rather than an aid. But the consequent reduction of hearing frequently causes frustration and a sense of exclusion, she adds.

Reduced hearing is a “hidden disability” as it is not visible to others, and affected people tend not to alert others to the issue, she says.

Induction loops could be “easily” adopted for aircraft cabins, Hrnkova adds, but so far no operator has opted to install such equipment on its aircraft.

ATR’s foray into the area is part of a wider effort to improve accessibility on its aircraft. The manufacturer – jointly owned by Airbus and Leonardo – has separately devised passenger signage and safety cards in Braille.

Since 2018, the airframer has been installing, as standard equipment, seats with armrests that fold-up fully flush to backrests in order to improve access for passengers with reduced mobility.

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