Etihad tests self-drive wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi Airport

Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates has launched an innovative trial of autonomous wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi International Airport, in advance of its move to the new Midfield Terminal. The trial is a partnership between Etihad Airways and Abu Dhabi Airports in collaboration with personal electric vehicle supplier WHILL and information technology company SITA.

The WHILL ‘autonomous drive system’ wheelchairs enable guests with restricted mobility to move around the airport environment on their own, without the need for assistance from a member of staff. The introduction of the autonomous option provides guests with the choice of freedom or to have traditional assistance via a team of dedicated porters, which will remain available.

The trial, which will last until the end of the year, will involve intensive testing and mapping of the airport environment to facilitate autonomous movement. This wheelchair is a first for any airline and airport in the region and features sensors to detect obstructions, providing an automatic ‘stop’ function. Future features in the pipeline include real-time gate and boarding time updates for guests.

Mohammad Al Bulooki, chief operating officer of Etihad Aviation Group said: “Etihad is an airline that has innovation at its core, be that on the ground or inflight. This latest trial of autonomous wheelchairs not only showcases the airline’s commitment to innovation, but more importantly inclusive innovation. 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.”

Bryan Thompson, chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi Airports said: “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 traveller through the implementation of innovative and cutting-edge technologies throughout Abu Dhabi International Airport and our upcoming Midfield Terminal.”

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