This comes from the Jane’s Airport Group Website and written by By Alan Osborn and Ben Vogel:

A new era in the treatment of disabled travellers at European airports will begin on 26 July 2008, when EU Regulation 1107/2006 comes into force. This will grant a number of extra rights to passengers of reduced mobility (PRM) and impose new responsibilities on airport managers.

Airlines and travel companies are already subject to important requirements under the regulation – since July 2007, for instance, it has been illegal to refuse bookings from disabled passengers. From this July, however, Europe’s airports will be legally obliged to undertake duties that either did not exist at all in the past or that were previously handled by airlines and others. Thus all European airports with traffic of more than 150,000 passengers a year will be required to assist, free of charge, PRM (a category including many elderly people as well as the disabled) all the way from arrival at the terminal to emplaning and vice versa at the destination.

Airport personnel will have to be properly trained in disability awareness and handling. This could be a major task: according to the European Commission (EC), around 10 per cent of the EU population has reduced mobility.

Around 400 airports will be bound by the EU regulation, says Vanessa Holve, who handles facilitation and parliamentary affairs at ACI Europe, whose members handle 90 per cent of European commercial air traffic.

Under the regulation, airports may choose to provide the new services themselves or, more probably, engage with subcontractors to do it for them, often in co-operation with local PRM associations.

Few airports have announced their full readiness for 26 July but neither the ACI nor the EC seem concerned that the deadline will not be met. “We have been informing all our members of the requirements, the tender procedures, the training procedures and everything else,” Holve tells Jane’s. “We know that most airports are now in the process of closing their tender procedures and we believe they will be operational by July.”

In the UK, a spokesman for the Airport Operators Association says that all major British airports had staff training fully in hand and “absolutely will be ready”.

Holve says that participation of airports in ACI Europe meetings and workshops has been “massive and active”, although she concedes that “some regional airports and airports who are not members of ACI Europe still lack awareness and action as to regulation 1107/2006″, adding that access to national PRM associations for co-operation has proved “difficult in many cases”.

A January 2008 meeting held in Brussels, and attended by national enforcement bodies and industry groups, heard that the experience of Brussels Airport – where the regulation was already in force – was that “pre-notification is fundamental, although airlines claim that they cannot notify the airport if the passenger did not notify them”, according to an airport official. Indeed, perfect notification would never be achieved because of last minute changes, among other things. However, “higher visibility and dedicated information to the public in the terminals has increased the number of assistance requests by 30 per cent in Brussels airport, with financial and operational consequences”, the representative adds.

EC officials noted at the same meeting that under Article 8 of the regulation, airports will be responsible for providing assistance to PRM outside the aircraft and that this responsibility would remain with the managing body of the airport “even if the assistance is subcontracted to third parties”.

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