Aviation Access Forum (AAF)—Record of Outcomes—12 November 2019

Date: Tuesday 12 November 2019
Venue: Park Royal Hotel, Melbourne Airport
Time: 11:30am – 13:00pm
Attendees: Guests
William Hay Haycomp
Virginia Smedley Melbourne Airport
Nicole Ryan Melbourne Airport
Joanne Percy Jetstar
Rania Jones Qantas
Lyn Langeberg Qantas
Stephanie Pemberton Qantas
Derek Trafford Regional Express
May Giuliani Tiger Airways
Sarah Michail Tiger Airways
Lorraine Greenaway Virgin Australia
Zoe Giffard Virgin Australia
Tony Jones Spinal Cord Injuries Australia
Phil Silver Paraquad
Sharen Annand Board of Airline Representatives Australia
Tony Starkey Royal Society for the Blind
Peter Simpson Physical Disability Australia
Dr Ben Gauntlett Australian Human Rights Commission
Hannah Tonkin Australian Human Rights Commission
Adrian Tušek Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Veronica Larzabal Department of Social Services (DSS)
Vera Mitrovic DSS
Charles Hausknecht (Chair) Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (DITRDC)
Robbie Slape DITRDC
Geoff Smith DITRDC
Representative Australian Airports Association
Murray Cobban Virgin Australia
Emma Scanlan Hearing Australia

Key Discussion Items

Agenda Item 1: Welcome, Apologies and Acceptance of Agenda

Robbie Slape (DITRDC) opened the meeting and welcomed attendees. Members agreed to the proposed agenda, endorsed the record of outcomes from the previous meeting of 20 June 2019, and noted apologies. The Chair informed the meeting that Charles Hausknecht (DITRDC) would chair the meeting in place of Simon Moore (DITRDC), but would arrive late due to flight delays.

Agenda Item 2(a): Guest Presentation: Melbourne Airport—Hidden Disability Program

Virginia Smedley (Melbourne Airport) and Nicole Ryan (Melbourne Airport) presented on Melbourne Airport's Hidden Disabilities Initiative, which had been developed after they identified a gap in their service offering related to hidden disabilities, which can include autism, anxiety issues, mental health conditions, dementia, visual and hearing impairments.

The program will make it easier for passengers to inform airport staff that they may need additional assistance. It has a number of elements, including a lanyard that people can choose to wear; a sensory map displaying quieter parts of the international terminal; a ‘Social Stories’ pictorial guide to the airport experience that can be used before travel; and appropriate staff training.

The program has been shared with both Hobart Airport and Gold Coast Airport, and Brisbane Airport—which presented to the forum in 2018—will replace their existing lanyards with the same design as those being used at Melbourne Airport. This will ensure national consistency, as well as consistency with major airports internationally, including London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol.

Phil Silver (Paraquad) re-iterated his view, that forcing people to wear a lanyard was an offensive and retrograde step. The presenters stated that the lanyard program was optional/ voluntary, and choosing not to wear a lanyard would not result in a passenger receiving a lesser level of service.

Rania Jones (Qantas) noted that the Gatwick Airport program, which first introduced the use of lanyards as part of an assistance approach, had now been rolled-out to other airports in the United Kingdom.

In response to a query from Derek Trafford (Regional Express) about whether the program was being offered only to major airports, the speakers responded that the package was available for any other airports. He noted that passenger disruptions owing to unknown mental health conditions continue to increase, and airlines appreciate more information enabling that to proactively manage those situations.

Further information can be accessed at: www.melbourneairport.com.au/Passengers/Passenger-information/Hidden-Disability-Program.

Agenda Item 2(b): Guest Presentation: Haycomp Eagle Lifter Demonstration

William Hay (Haycomp) demonstrated the Eagle Lifter with assistance from Adrian Tušek (CASA). Tony Jones (Spinal Cord Injuries Australia) raised a concern that while anecdotally there was mostly positive feedback on these devices, there were misconceptions regarding their availability, in that they were not used by all airlines nor available at all airport locations.

Qantas indicated that information on availability was currently included in individual airport Disability Access Facilitation Plans.

Dr Ben Gauntlett (Australian Human Rights Commission) suggested that mandating this equipment could be included within the Disability Standards for Accessible Transport.

Derek Trafford (Regional Express) noted this would disproportionally impact for smaller airlines, and that the impact would likely inhibit the policy intent of improving accessibility. There are also issues around maintaining equipment at small remote airports and that may be used infrequently, as well as ensuring that there were adequately trained staff at those locations.

Phil Silver (Paraquad) noted that the initial costs were negligible, but there was a problem around training and logistics. He also expressed concern that the bigger issue in domestic aviation was the Government's disinclination to mandate specific accessibility standards, including in terms of the maximum number of wheelchairs permitted onboard.

The Chair suggested that any members who would like to discuss or raise any issues should liaise with the Secretariat for inclusion as future agenda items.

The Chair requested the DITRDC follow up with airlines regarding the airport locations where lifters were available.

ACTION ITEM 1: Airlines to provide the AAF Secretariat with a list of airports with available lifter equipment, which can be made available to AAF members.

ACTION ITEM 2: Qantas provided a short presentation on Eagle Lift equipment. The weblink to the demonstration video to be circulated to AAF members.

Agenda Item 3: Previous outcomes and action items

Charles Hausknecht (DITRDC) chaired the meeting for the remaining agenda items.

In the interests of completing the meeting within scheduled timing, the Chair sought agreement to take consideration of a number of Agenda items together with relevant Action Items, as follows:

Action item 1: AAF Secretariat to progress consistent terminology and service level work with airline operators and disability groups with assistance from the AHRC. The Australian Airports Association representative had previously agreed to assist with this action item but was not available for this meeting. Consequently, it was agreed that work would be progressed out-of-session and reported on at the next AAF meeting.

ACTION ITEM 3: Work on consistent terminology and service level work with airline operators to be progressed out-of-session and reported on at the next AAF meeting.

Action item 2: Qantas to provide a short presentation on Eagle Lift equipment at the November 2019 forum.

Completed: William Hay (Haycomp) presented to the forum.

Action item 3: The AAA to consolidate airport views on consistency of approach to passenger facilitation after consulting with airport operators.

As with Action Item 1, work will be progressed out-of-session and reported on at the next AAF meeting.

ACTION ITEM 4: Work on consistency of approach to passenger facilitation to be progressed out-of-session and reported on at the next AAF meeting.

Action item 4: AAF Secretariat to advise members when the transition from GovDex to GovTeams has been actioned.

The Chair sought members' confirmation of their interest in establishing a new communications option, noting that it had been a year since this matter was first canvassed with AAF. Derek Trafford (Regional Express) indicated that other government aviation GovTeams have proved effective for information sharing.

It was agreed that this platform be trialled for 12 months and its effectiveness reviewed at the end of 2020, as a basis for considering whether there was sufficient support for it to continue to be used.

The Department advised AAF Members that access details would be provided in late 2019.

ACTION ITEM 5: GovTeams to be established and effectiveness of use to be monitored over the next 12 months.

Action item 5: AHRC to provide consultation information for Equivalent Access Guidelines to AAF Secretariat for distribution.

Completed: The information was circulated following the May 2019 forum.

Action item 6: AAF Secretariat to distribute 2018 presentation from Brisbane Airport on their accessible facilities for new AAF members.

Completed: The presentation was circulated following the May 2019 forum.

Action item 7: Sydney Airport to provide presentation on recent accessibility initiatives from 20 June 2019 forum to AAF Secretariat for distribution. Completed: The presentation was circulated following the May 2019 forum.

Action item 8: AAF Secretariat to consider including ‘misuse of accessible toilets’ and ‘security of checked baggage’ as future agenda items.

These issues were included in the agenda for this meeting for discussion under agenda Item 7. However, Phil Silver (Paraquad) who had sought their inclusion for discussion had left the teleconference, and the Chair indicated that these items would best be included in the Agenda for the next meeting.

ACTION ITEM 6: ‘Misuse of accessible toilets’ and ‘security of checked baggage’ to be included as agenda items for the next AAF meeting.

Action item 9: CASA to provide new lithium battery requirements at November forum. Adrian Tušek (CASA) provided an update of progress by the dangerous goods working group regarding the safe transport of Lithium batteries for mobility devices and the updating of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards.

CASA reported that the 300 volt hours limit for lithium batteries has been removed by CASA, however this only applies in Australian airspace. There is no indication of this being lifted internationally through ICAO standards. ICAO are moving towards a new standard with a preference of having multiple, smaller battery packs, similar to power tools. DITRDC undertook for the information package distributed by CASA to attendees to be posted to the GovTeams page.

Discussions under this action item covered off Agenda Item 6(b).

Action item 10: DSS to enquire about whether the AAWG scope includes psychological support dogs.

Completed: Vera Mitrovic (DSS) informed attendees that assistance dogs in this case refers to all trained and accredited assistance dogs, regardless of the reason for them.

Rania Jones (Qantas) raised a point of clarity regarding the differences between Australian and United States definitions of assistance animals, noting that in the United States, emotional support animals are not necessarily trained. In Australia, animals must meet CASA regulatory requirements for carriage.

Action item 11: DSS to provide the Assistance Animals Working Group contact list to the AAF Secretariat for distribution.

Completed: DSS informed the Secretariat following the May 2019 that they are not able to share the contact list but that any AAF members that wished to contact the working group or specific working group members were welcome to contact its Secretariat or DSS directly.

Vera Mitrovic (DSS) provided a brief update on the Assistance Animals Working Group, scheduled for discussion under Agenda Item 6(b). The meeting was held on 17 September 2019.

Attendees were provided with a scoping paper outlining the Public Access Test (PAT) accreditation standards of each jurisdiction. The paper identified that many jurisdictions don't have accreditation standards, with Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia having the only comprehensive accreditation process.

Jurisdictions agreed that there should be national consistency of the PAT. The next step for the working group was to look at the legislative and other supports in each jurisdiction and undertake an analysis.

Agenda Item 4: Online bookings for wheelchairs—progress

The Chair outlined that in the lead-up to the meeting airlines were asked to outline whether or not they had online bookings arrangements supporting online bookings for wheelchairs, or plans for this to be put in place.

A number of airlines (Jetstar, Regional Express and Virgin Australia) indicated that online bookings for wheelchairs was already accessible through their booking systems.

Qantas reported that the roll-out of their online wheelchair booking system was planned to commence in November 2019, and by the end of February 2020 online booking capability for wheelchairs should be fully functional. Qantas noted they were aware of some issues around privacy and the collection of personal information. Qantas was working through these to ensure there would be no issues when the system is operational. Dr Ben Gauntlett (Disability Discrimination Commissioner) told members that this issue was brought to his attention as particularly affecting younger people, as the lack of an online option restricts their independence.

The Chair encouraged members to continue to engage with airlines to provide feedback on their booking systems, to effect better outcomes going forward. The forum will review the implementation progress at the first AAF meeting in 2020.

ACTION ITEM 7: Airlines to update AAF on implementation and operation of online wheelchair bookings capability.

Agenda Item 5: National Accessible Transport Taskforce (NATT)

Geoff Smith (DITRCD) provided an overview of the National Accessible Transport Taskforce (NATT)—a recently formed joint taskforce run by the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads with the DITRDC—comprised of representation from all states and territories as well as the disability sector. Its focus is to modernise and reform the transport standards (DSAPT).

DITRDC advised that the first NATT meeting was held in Brisbane on 19–20 September and it was noted that while other transport modes were represented by different bodies, there were no aviation industry representatives.

The Chair encouraged airlines to consider representation on NATT. Airlines expressed a collective concern about having their views represented by their competitors, particularly since only two positions were available for aviation on the NATT. There was also a general concern that rotating attendance would not benefit either the NATT or airlines over time.

DITRDC indicated that airlines may also consider engaging through participation in various working groups which will report to NATT.

DITRDC undertook to seek further clarification at the NATT steering committee on 13 November 2019, regarding suitable arrangements to enable effective engagement by aviation in NATT, before coming back to airlines on possible options on a way forward.

ACTION ITEM 8: DITRDC to report on arrangements back to airlines following the NATT steering committee on 13 November, on possible options to enable effective engagement by aviation in NATT.

Agenda Item 6: Other Business

Due to time constraints, the Chair asked members to defer any discussion topics and reminded members to contact the Secretariat with any issues and proposals for future agenda items.

Derek Trafford (Regional Express) noted that he was planning to retire but planned to attend the next AAF meeting to introduce his replacement.

The Chair indicated that the Secretariat would come back to AAF members to firm up a date for the next meeting (proposed date of Thursday, 21 May 2020) and possible suitable venues had been identified.

Next AAF Meeting: Thursday 21 May 2020