AirAsia has finally launched the ambulift at the KLIA-LCCT after several months delay. The ambulift is to assist disabled people board and disembark from the aircraft. At the same time, the budget airline was reported to have said that another ambulift is based in the Kota Kinabalu International Airport. This is a good move on the airline’s part in moving towards making air travel more accessible for disabled people. For this, I would like to congratulate the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) for being able to convince AirAsia and its chief executive officer Dato’ Tony Fernandes that air travel should not be limited only for people who can walk.
While the ambulifts will ease one of the problems faced by disabled people flying with the airline, the cabin is still generally inaccessible, especially the toilets. No mention was made on whether all the aircrafts are equipped with aisle chairs as promised by Dato’ Fernandes. If not, BEAT must pursue this matter to ensure that disabled people will not face problems when they need to move around in the aircraft or use the toilet. The other matters that need to be looked into are indemnity forms, the RM12 charge for using the wheelchairs at the airport and proper handling of disabled persons and their wheelchairs. I believe some of those issues have been resolved. BEAT and AirAsia should come out and announce it publicly to prevent confusion and inconsistent imposition of policies by the airline’s staff.
Having said that, I would like to remind BEAT, especially Christine Lee and V. Murugeswaran who are leading the group, not to forget the purpose why the group was formed. Its main purpose was to advocate for accessible public transport which has been given scant attention of late. While they openly applaud the launching of the ambulifts, they seemed to have disregarded the fact that disabled people still do not have access to public transport to take them to the airport. What is the point of advocating for accessible air travel when disabled people cannot get to the airport? Not every disabled person can drive, afford to own a car or transfer into taxis.
BEAT should seriously consider reinitiating negotiations with RapidKL and related government ministries to ensure that the 100 RapidKL buses already fitted with ramps allow wheelchair users to use them. It is ironic that these buses with the wheelchair logos affixed to its exterior do not take wheelchair users at the moment because BEAT has refused to endorse the buses due to safety considerations. The ramps and wheelchair locking mechanisms were deemed unsuitable and non-functional. As far as I know, BEAT has not pursued this with RapidKL but prefer to concentrate most of its effort on AirAsia.
Disabled people like everyone else need access to public transport, namely buses and trains, for education, employment, medical appointments, social and religious functions, among others. While I agree that disabled people need to have access to air travel, BEAT should judiciously use its limited resources to advocate for an issue that will benefit the most people, not one that only a handful will be using. In my opinion, there must be a sense of priority and the priority now is public transport and not air travel.
Consider the following facts.
100 out of RapidKL’s 1000 buses are accessible = 10%
2 out of AirAsia’s 55 destinations are accessibe = 3.6%
The mode of transport that disabled people need to use more often
While BEAT has been generous with its applause for AirAsia, it has been very critical of RapidKL’s efforts to the extent of refusing to endorse the 100 buses. It simply does not make any sense. We have here 100 buses that will benefit all wheelchair users in the Klang Valley but BEAT prefers to ignore that fact and openly throw its support for AirAsia’s 2 ambulifts. BEAT’s logic in refusing to endorse those buses was because the ramps were too short and may cause wheelchairs to tip backwards. During discussions with RapidKL, the bus operator has informed BEAT that wheelchair users are only allowed to board the buses with the assistance of the bus drivers. That should reduce the risk of wheelchairs tipping backwards.
How dangerous can that be compared to carrying a disabled person up or down the flight of narrow plane stairs? Having been carried up not once but six times up such stairs, twice with Malaysia Airlines in 1999 when it was still flying into Subang International Airport and 4 times with AirAsia in 2007, I can attest to the recurring fear of being dropped or the ground crews slipping on the steps each time I was carried. The AirAsia ground crews, and Malaysia Airlines at that time, were neither properly trained in doing the two-man carry nor observed safety procedures when performing this task. Who will be held responsible should any mishap occur while being carried up or down the stairs?
News report stated that 40 disabled people attended the launching of the ambulift. The leaders of BEAT should ask themselves how many of those 40 disabled people fly frequently and which mode of transport they need most. Were they able to use public transport to get to the airport? If not, why? Bread and butter issues of disabled people should be resolved first before anything else. That should be the priority. When disabled people cannot even get into public buses to move around conveniently around Kuala Lumpur, why is BEAT committing so much of its limited resources into advocating for accessibility in air travel?
April 12, 2008 16:58 PM
SEPANG, April 12 (Bernama) — To provide accessibility for disabled passengers, AirAsia Bhd has placed an ambulift at the low cost carrier terminal (LCCT) here and another in Kota Kinabalu.
Group chief executive officer Datuk Tony Fernandes said Saturday the facility will provide better mobility and comfort for the airline’s disabled passengers.
Previously, disabled passengers were physically carried by AirAsia’s ground staff to board the aircraft, Fernandes told reporters after the launch of the facility at the LCCT here.
According to him, installation of the facility at the two airports cost RM1.3 million, including training for the staff.
The airline is discussing with the Kuching Airport authority to place an ambulift there.
It is also looking at placing ambulifts in other airports such as Penang, Jakarta and Bangkok.
Up to four disabled passengers are allowed on a flight, and two of them can be quadriplegics.
AirAsia, said Fernandes, is in talks with Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd to provide free aerobridge use for disabled passengers at airports that do not have ambulifts.
The Star Online
Sunday April 13, 2008
Ambulift launched at LCCT
AirAsia launches ambulift for disabled passengers
SEPANG: AirAsia launched its first ambulift at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) here to allow disabled passengers to board the aircraft instead of being physically carried into the plane by AirAsia workers.
The airline bought two ambulifts, one to be placed at LCCT and another one at Kota Kinabalu airport.
Ambulift is a lift that is attached to the back of a van to lift passengers from the aircraft to the ground so they do not have to use the steps.
Disabled-friendly move: An AirAsia flight attendant posing with disabled people in front of the new ambulift at the LCCT at the KL International Airport on Saturday.
Nine months ago, members of the Barrier-Free Environment and Accessible Transport Group (BEAT) representing the disabled community gathered at the LCCT to protest the carrier’s “discriminatory” policy and demanded disabled-friendly services by AirAsia.
They asked the airline to provide an ambulift to allow disabled passengers to board the aircraft instead of being physically carried into the plane by AirAsia workers.
Former Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy then ordered Malaysia Airports Berhad and AirAsia to solve the problem.
AirAsia chief executive officer Datuk Tony Fernandez said providing the ambulift was only one part of their initiatives to be disabled-friendly.
He said they were also in talks with Malaysia Airports to provide free aerobridge usage at airports that do not have ambulifts and give staff hands-on training by engaging those from the disabled community.
“We will also enhance our services and accessibility where possible and we hope to set the example for other LCCTs and airlines to work towards an improved environment for our disabled friends,” he said.
However, he hoped Malaysia Airports would improve airport facilities and provide level walkways and designated car parks.
Fernandez also said that the AirAsia’s A320 aircraft could only take a maximum of four disabled guests per flight and two of the seats could accommodate quadriplegic flyers.
BEAT coordinator Christina Lee welcomed AirAsia’s move to introduce disability equality training for the cabin crew and staff.
“This will give them a better understanding of “disability” issues as well as tips on how to relate to and assist disabled passengers,” she said.
AirAsia’s Press Release:
Greater Comfort and Accessibility for AirAsia Disabled Friends