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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, together with its partners Abu Dhabi Airports Corporation and WHILL personal electric vehicle supplier, have completed guest trials of their innovative autonomous wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi International Airport.  

The trials ran between 2 to 6 December and were phase two of the pilot project, which was launched in September 2019. The trials involved over 60 guests with restricted mobility, who self-drove the wheelchairs, navigating crowded areas and lounges before safely arriving at their gate. Upon completion of the guest journey, the wheelchairs returned autonomously back to the docking station without requiring any human interference. 

The WHILL autonomous wheelchairs are fitted with sensors that detect obstructions and have an automatic ‘stop’ function, enabling the trial participants to travel around the airport independently of Etihad Airways or Abu Dhabi International Airport staff. During the trial, assistance from porters was on hand to guide guests on usage of the wheelchairs and provide support whenever required.

Mohammad Al Bulooki, Chief Operating Officer, Etihad Aviation Group said: “The feedback received from guests who participated in these trials was overwhelmingly positive, and the airline looks forward to the possibility of offering its guests the choice of autonomous wheelchairs in the future. Etihad’s commitment to innovation remains strong, and the national airline is proud to invest in trials and projects like this, that give its guests a truly unique, seamless and independent experience when travelling with Etihad Airways.”

Ahmed Al Shamisi, Acting Chief Operations Officer of Abu Dhabi Airports, added: “Convenience is one of the most important factors in the traveler experience today. We want to make it even easier for passengers to enjoy our airports with ease. Through these trials, we have shown that restricted mobility passengers and their families can enjoy greater freedom of movement while still ensuring that the technology can be used safely and securely in our facilities.”

“Partnering with Etihad Airways for demonstration of the WHILL Autonomous Drive System was a natural fit. Their passion for inclusive innovation aligns with our company vision, and we are excited about what this means for airport terminal experiences in the future,” said Takeshi Ueda, Executive Vice President, MaaS from WHILL, “Seeing individuals experience the benefits of the seamless travel experience from security to boarding is so rewarding, and we are eager to translate this experience to airports across the globe.”

Etihad Airways and Abu Dhabi International Airport are the first airline and airport in the region to trial an autonomous wheelchair option for guests with restricted mobility, enabling them to move around the airport environment independently.

Intensive mapping and trialling of the wheelchairs will continue for the coming weeks, before a comprehensive evaluation will determine the viability of the wheelchairs in the Midfield Terminal.

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