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Alderney Airport, Dorniers both lack disabled access

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THE stark lack of disabled access at Alderney’s airport and onto Aurigny’s Dornier aircraft has been highlighted to deputies.

Aurigny’s Dornier aircraft have steps which fold down from the aircraft with rope handrails, which gives wheelchair and other less mobile users great difficulty in boarding. (Picture by David Nash)

There is no disabled toilet at the antiquated terminal and wheelchair users must be taken on a circuitous route around the outside of the building to get to the apron.

But a more serious issue is getting onto the Dorniers themselves.

They are accessed via a narrow set of four steps fixed to a door and have rope handrails. Only one person can be on the steps at a time.

Elderly people and wheelchair users must be physically hoisted from their chair up through the doors or be asked to mount the steps bottom first.

Aurigny staff are not officially allowed to provide any physical handling.

Many of the flights such people are taking are for medical appointments.

At the June Alderney States meeting, as equality legislation was being debated, States member Steve Roberts called the lack of equal access at Alderney Airport ‘a disgrace’. He had earlier brought the matter up in the States of Deliberation in Guernsey.

‘This is unbelievable in 2019. I asked [HSC president] Deputy Soulsby if she could she assure me this would be investigated. Unfortunately I didn’t get an answer.’

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Philippa Arditti, whose late husband, Paul, campaigned for a longer runway for Alderney, regularly helps take elderly people on medical flights.

‘Recently I was accompanying a woman in her late 80s who was very unsteady on her feet. The rope railings are far too wobbly for someone that isn’t very strong or mobile.

‘She was taken across the apron on a wheelchair and she was asked if she could get up on her bottom. There was a complete lack of understanding.

‘The steps only fit one person at a time so you can’t go up with them.

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‘Our Aurigny staff are fantastic and always help out if they can – beyond the call of duty – but they are limited by liability considerations.

‘I did investigate a motorised lift that could articulate over the steps. I don’t think this should be beyond the means of the States of Guernsey and Alderney.’

Former nurse Nicki Dooley and her husband Simon have to

regularly take their 16-year-old son, Matthew, who uses a wheelchair, to see his orthopedic specialist in Southampton.

‘Every time he goes he has to be pushed around the outside round the hangar to the plane. It’s not great when it’s windy and raining.

‘The biggest issue however is getting him on it. We can’t get him up the steps.

‘Both doors have to be completely open and we have to lift him, above what is physically comfortable, out of the wheelchair and up to the doors so he is sitting on the edge of the aircraft with his legs dangling down.

‘Then we go up on the steps and have to swing his legs around and into the plane. It gets worse as he gets older and bigger.

‘Staff go out of their way to help but they are not allowed to rely on them in any shape or form.

‘To a certain extent you accept it as a part of living on a small island but any kind of lift would make life here a lot easier.’

Tony Yates, vice-chairman of equal rights campaign group Access for All, said the issue at the airport had been raised after each of his three visits to Alderney, most recently in June.

‘The airport is not an acceptable building and unless you can haul yourself onto the plane you can’t fly. It’s something we have raised.'

This should have been a factor in the choice of aircraft, he said.

‘At the moment I’m talking to someone in the UK about a portable platform to lift people to the level of the doors. The equipment for this is available but it may only be available in Europe.’

The problem with asking for money to be spent on the Dorniers currently is the fact that Alderney’s air links are out for tender.

But modifications could be made to features of Alderney Airport, which is owned by the States of Guernsey.

‘The male and female toilets could be reconfigured to make one large toilet room for both men and women and include baby changing facilities and wheelchair access,’ said Mr Yates. ‘That could be done within the existing infrastructure.’

Mr Roberts said he would continue to raise the issue of disabled access at the airport.

‘Deputy Al Brouard has written to me saying that P&R are going to look into the matter,’ he said. ‘I’m not going to let this one go.’

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