Etihad Airways is testing autonomous wheelchairs to help passengers with restricted mobility move independently around its Abu Dhabi hub.
The autonomous drive system wheelchairs will give passengers the choice of being able to move around the airport without assistance or to get help from a traditional team of dedicated porters.
The wheelchairs feature sensors that allow them to stop automatically if they sense an obstruction and they also automatically return to a collection point once they have delivered the guest.
The trial, which is a first for the region, will last until year’s end and will involve intensive testing and mapping of the airport environment.
It is a partnership between Etihad and Abu Dhabi Airports in collaboration with personal electric vehicle supplier WHILL and information technology company SITA.
“This trial is particularly important because it empowers Etihad Airways’ guests and provides them with a level of freedom at the airport which hasn’t been available before,’’ Etihad Aviation Group chief operating officer Mohammad Al Bulooki said.
“The possibilities that this new technology introduces are truly exciting and the teams are working hard to ensure that the experience of the airlines’ guests is as seamless and independent as possible.”
The idea is to use the new wheelchairs in Abu Dhabi’s midfield terminal when it opens.
“Enhancing the freedom of movement of those with mobility restrictions forms a part of our wider commitment to delivering a smooth and seamless passenger experience to each and every traveler through the implementation of innovative and cutting-edge technologies throughout Abu Dhabi International Airport and our upcoming Midfield Terminal,’’ Abu Dhabi Airports chief executive Bryan Thompson said.
An updated schedule for the long-delayed new terminal had it opening at the end of this year, although that has yet to be confirmed, and it has been undergoing operational tests.
The 742,000 square-metre X-shaped terminal is designed to boost the airport’s capacity to 45 million people per year, with options to go higher, and will be able to handle 8.500 passengers an hour.