The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is submitting its Notice of Proposed Amendment on safe carriage of Special Categories of Passengers to public consultation.
The Notice of Proposed Amendment has been developed by EASA based on the input of a rulemaking group comprising representatives from cabin crew organisations, airlines, authorities and aircraft manufacturers.
CAT.OP.MPA.155 of the Air OPS Regulation defines SCPs as persons requiring special conditions, assistance and/or devices when carried on a flight, like persons with reduced mobility (PRMs) persons with any physical or sensory disability permanent or temporary; mental or intellectual impairment, any other cause of disability, or age; infants and unaccompanied children; and deportees, inadmissible passengers or prisoners in custody.
The rules EASA wishes to change concern the maximum number of Special Categories of Passengers that can be allowed on any given flight; passenger briefing process; disabled passengers seating allocation; requirement for a safety assistant to travel with a passenger with disability.
Filing its comments to the public consultation, Reduced Mobility Rights noted a number of issues that have room from improvement in the NPA.
EASA invites stakeholders to comment on whether there is a need to define a further limit than the one already contained in AMC1 CAT.OP.MPA.155 (b) which states that the operator should take into account a number of factors when carrying SCPs, including the factor that the number of Special Categories Passengers should not be greater than the number of passengers capable of assisting.
Reduced Mobility Rights believes the only acceptable non-discriminatory limit on carriage of SCPs is the total number of seats on board the aircraft less the number of seats located in an emergency exit. By example, an easyjet A319 configured with 156 passengers’ seats has 16 seats located in emergency exits (1A,1B,1C,1D, and two over-wing rows). Therefore the applicable limit for the carriage of SCPs would be 140.
The reasoning behind this suggestion is the following: the SCP count is based on available data like pre-notification of assistance or visual identification. However, passengers with hearing loss and invisible disabilities like Alzheimer’s or dementia may not be identifiable in such ways.
In this respect setting a limit of one able body to one SCP may preclude a person notifying of his/her different ability from carriage whilst allowing other undeclared SCPs onboard. This would not only create a blatant case of discrimination by means of compliance, but also alter the one to one ratio because undetected SCPs may prove unable to assist others during the emergency evacuation. Waiving the limit on carriage of SCPs would also create a common standard with US legislation, 14 CFR Part 382.17.
In 2012 IATA, the association of airlines highlighted the need for common standards in the transport of passengers with special needs. “Regulations in the European Union are different from those in North America. Other countries have no specific regulations at all. In short, PRM regulation is a legal minefield,” IATA said. Identifying areas where existing legislation can meet is of the essence to build a global standard that would better serve passengers and the industry alike.
EASA proposes that group seating of non-ambulatory SCPs and extremely obese passengers should be avoided. They should be allocated seats distributed throughout the cabin to ensure that each SCP is surrounded by the maximum number of passengers capable of assisting in an emergency.
On surface, this option may seem to be most appropriate. However, it does not take into consideration two key aspects, availability of movable armrests and availability of onboard wheelchairs. It is borderline criminal to allow passengers with severe mobility limitations be scattered across the cabin on aircraft where movable armrests are not available at all seats (easyjet) and onboard wheelchairs are not available (easyjet, jet2, flyBE, Aer Lingus, Cityjet and many more).
Safety of the passenger should always be the focus of new rules. Allowing passengers with severe reduced mobility to be manhandled into seats where movable armrests are not provided seriously hinders personal safety, and may lead to injuries, let alone cause delays with the enplaning/deplaning process. It may also prevent the passenger to move from/to the lavatory.
We believe that, first and foremost, availability of movable armrests on all aisle seats and onboard wheelchair on all aircraft with more than 60 seats should be made compulsory before proposing this rule. On a side note, such obligation exists in US legislation 14 CFR Part 382.
EASA NPA also proposes that a safety assistant should be seated next to the SCP where it is most convenient to assist the disabled passenger. This rule is a no brainer, and also exists in part 382.
Where and when objectively required, a safety assistant must be seated next to the SCP. Full implementation of this proposal requires the revision of(EC)1107/2006, Annex II, since airlines are simply required to make "all reasonable efforts to give such person a seat next to the disabled person".
However, the Head of the Passenger Rights Unit at the European Commission told Reduced Mobility Rights in December 2013 DG MOVE does not think the Regulation should be modified any time soon.
Passing the rule without making the case for a revision of the Regulation would generate a conflict of interpretation between this proposal and the covenant in the Regulation.
Finally, EASA proposes that a safety assistant is required for passengers who are unable to unfasten their seat belt; leave their seat and reach an emergency exit unaided; retrieve and fit a life jacket; fit an oxygen mask without assistance; follow instructions given by the crew in an emergency situation.
Reduced Mobility Rights believes the proposal does not address the special relationship in the case of carriage of UMs, whereby the assigned cabin crew watches over a non predetermined number of unaccompanied minors. If this concept is valid, whereby one person may be in charge of being safety assistant for a number of SCPs, then the question should have a broader scope as one cabin crew could be in charge of assisting three or four UA (Unaccompanied Adults), by example dementia sufferers.
In our opinion, the presence of a one to one safety assistance should be limited in cases where the passenger has severe mobility limitations (cannot make his or her way to the emergency exits unaided), cannot follow instructions given by cabin crew like in the case of deaf/blind passengers (both conditions combined), or cannot cope with simple tasks or instructions like severe mental conditions.
In all other cases, the possibility of an escort looking over a number of passengers like in the case of carriage of UMs should be allowed.
Reduced Mobility Rights welcomes readers’ opinions on this consultation. Readers are welcome to post their opinions on our Facebook page.