Air operators - Carriage by air - Battery powered wheelchairs
Carriage by air - Battery powered wheelchairs
The United Nations publishes documents containing procedures necessary to ensure the safe transport of all dangerous goods by air which, under international agreements, are law in virtually all countries.
Australia has adopted those procedures through Section 23 of the Civil Aviation Act, which makes compliance with those procedures mandatory.
These procedures cover articles containing batteries which, generally speaking, can only be carried as consigned cargo ie. they cannot travel as "baggage". Relief from this requirement is available for battery-powered wheelchairs where the passenger and wheelchair are to travel on the same flight, and where certain requirements are met , in which case the wheelchair with battery can be considered as baggage. Airlines are obliged to have procedures in place to ensure these requirements are met. The aims of the requirements are to prevent fire due to heat or sparks developed should the battery be short-circuited, and/or to reduce as far as is possible the risk of spillage of battery electrolyte during loading, flight and unloading with ensuing corrosion damage to the aircraft, baggage and cargo.
The procedures adopted by individual airlines to achieve these aims will depend on a number of factors. The main factor is the type of battery fitted to the wheelchair. Dependant on the type of battery fitted, the ability to load, stow and unload the wheelchair through the aircraft cargo compartment doors, with the chair remaining in the upright position the whole time, can also be a factor. Due to cargo hold size limitations the loading of a wheelchair in an upright position in aircraft similar in size or smaller than a Boeing 737 can be very difficult, if not impossible.
The battery will be of the "spillable" or "non-spillable" type, and confirmation that a particular type of battery has been tested to meet the criterion to be classified as a "non-spillable" battery will usually be available from the selling agent or the manufacturer. It should be noted that many "gel-cell" batteries are sold as "non-spillable" but have not been subjected to the tests necessary to be legally classified as "non-spillable" for transport by air.
For non-spillable batteries the procedure will usually involve disconnection of the battery, insulation of the battery terminals and ensuring the battery is securely attached to the wheelchair. For spillable batteries the same procedures will apply only if the wheelchair can remain in an upright position through the entire loading process . If this requirement can not be met the battery must be removed and transported in a container specifically designed for the purpose.
The procedures the airlines must follow are time consuming and can unfortunately involve inconvenience to the passenger. This can be reduced by making advance arrangements with the airline as early as possible before the proposed flight, and allowing sufficient time for any necessary preparation of the wheelchair for flight. Should travel involve more than one airline, arrangements should be made with each airline. Having details available of the type of battery installed when making arrangements will be of assistance to the airline.
CASA Dangerous Goods Inspectors (131757) can provide further general information if required, however, as the procedures adopted by the airlines can differ, specific advice is best sought from the airline of intended travel.