Aerobility disabled flyers charity looks for bizav partners


UK charity Aerobility, dedicated to helping the disabled experience the thrill of flight, is looking for more business aviation partners worldwide. Partnering with the charity benefits everyone – disabled flyers, host and sponsoring companies, their staff and society – Mike Miller-Smith, the charity’s CEO, told Corporate Jet Investor.

“From an awareness perspective, there’s still an awful lot the business jet community can learn about accessibility and how to get someone with mobility impairment into an aircraft,” he said. “The disabled community accounts for one fifth of the world’s population – so they cannot ignore us. That would be leaving one fifth of their market behind.”

Miller-Smith thanked the charity’s existing business aviation partners – such as aviation software company Aerobytes, air traffic control company NATS, Bombardier and Oriens Aviation, which distributes Pilatus and Tecnam aircraft in the British Isles. All four organisations supported Aerobility’s Armchair Airshow at London Biggin Hill Airport staged in May and available to view online here.

This year’s event generated more than £65,000, nearly 50% more than in 2021, which will be used to pay for 32 new flying experiences for disabled people. “This has delivered a massive boost in capacity to our over-subscribed services, meaning we can take more people in to the skies, changing their perspective on the world and their personal capabilities forever,” said Miller-Smith. We are particularly grateful to the [UK] Department for Transport and Aerobytes for their support of the show.”

Aerobility’s flying programme continues to benefit from Project Able – a UK government-backed plan to upgrade 60 former military Grob training aircraft and repurpose them for societal use, including disabled flying. The charity is working alongside aerospace partners to modify some aircraft for disabled flyers. The remaining aircraft are being marketed for sale, including potentially working with an aircraft lessor on financing. The first private buyer took delivery of an aircraft in April.

While not all those who fly in a light aircraft modified for disabled use goes on to gain their pilot’s licence, it is a powerful confidence-building exercise. People ask, if I can fly an aircraft, what else can I do?, according to the charity.

But the business jet community is the area of the industry with which the charity is least connected, he said. The benefits of supporting Aerobility extended well beyond the disabled community, said Miller-Smith. For example, disabled workers were an underused resource. “Disabled people are natural innovators and can benefit companies,” he said. “We need to find solutions to problems every day and that can translate into real benefits for the business world.”

Also partnering with Aerobility proves a rewarding experience for the staff of the charity’s business partners. The staff at NATS and other organisations enjoyed hosting visits from disabled people because it enabled them to make a difference in people’s lives.

Returning to the theme of aircraft accessibility for the disabled, Miller-Smith said if aircraft designers of the 1950s and ‘60s had considered wheelchair access then, flying today would be much easier for one fifth of the world’s population. “So we need to ensure that accessibility is baked into the system now,” he told CJI.

To achieve that aim the charity has teamed up with the to stage a student design competition, sponsored by Bell Helicopters, to encourage wheelchair access to eVTOLs.

“The brightest students around the world are thinking about designing an eVTOL with wheelchair access,” said Miller-Smith. “About 25 students from every continent are working on this now and we look forward to seeing the results later this year.”

Meanwhile, Aerobility’s Grob G109B Able training aircraft (pictured below) is on display at this week’s Farnborough Air Show (Zone E, Stand 017) in the UK.

Top:  Mike Miller-Smith, CEO, Aerobility, (right) and his assistant, pictured at the Armchair Airshow at London Biggin Hill Airport in May 2022.