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LAX Airport: Response time for wheelchair service improves with new technology

LAX Airport: Response time for wheelchair service improves with new technology

Introduced just a few years ago, Bluetooth-enabled beacon technology is rapidly being deployed by retail stores and malls to increase sales by tracking shoppers and sending tailored sales pitches to their smartphones.  But the technology applications can go far beyond location-based marketing.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), in partnership with Aero Port Services, Inc. (APS), Inglewood, has become the only airport in the world to apply this emerging technology for tracking and dispatching wheelchair service.  The results are improvements in response times for travelers requesting wheelchairs, and improved communications and operational efficiency. 

Aero Port Services recently introduced its proprietary Wheelchair Assistance Innovative Solutions Tracking System (WAIS-Track) throughout LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) to address the growing number of wheelchair requests from the 38 foreign air carriers operating in TBIT.  In 2015, LAX received over 970,000 requests for wheelchairs across all terminals, of which 275,000 (or 28 percent) were at TBIT.  This year, LAX is experiencing record passenger levels and wheelchair requests are expected to exceed one million.  APS says it is currently receiving an average of 900 requests daily, putting it on track to surpass 325,000 requests this year.

            “We’re excited to see the implementation of WAIS-Track in the Tom Bradley International Terminal,” said Larry Rolon, Los Angeles World Airports’ Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator.  “Demand for wheelchair service has risen over 14 percent in the past year at TBIT, which has the highest number of wheelchair requests at LAX.  This can result in delays for passengers waiting for assistance.  WAIS-Track will be a big help in managing wheelchair locations and personnel assignments, which should help reduce wait times.”

            “We realized there was a need for technology that could efficiently keep up with the growing service demands of high-volume airports,” said APS Chief Marketing Director Walter Vergara.  “Providing exceptional wheelchair service at TBIT relies on accurate benchmarking of our performance. With WAIS-Track, we’re introducing a way to ensure accuracy and efficiency while addressing high volume and reducing passenger waiting times.  APS is proud to introduce and implement WAIS-Track at LAX.”

WAIS-Track uses Bluetooth-enabled beacons deployed throughout TBIT that provide way-finding information to APS’ proprietary smartphone app.  As wheelchair assistants ferry travelers throughout the terminal, their location data is read by a beacon and transmitted through a cellular network to APS’ computer servers, allowing real-time location tracking.  This connection eliminates the previous walkie-talkie and cellphone calls by dispatchers asking wheelchair assistants for their locations, their availability for another assignment, and how far they are from the central dispatch location to receive a new assignment.  New assignments can be transmitted to available wheelchair assistants located nearest to the requesting airline staffer.    

The WAIS-Track system provides wheelchair assistants and their guests with continuously updated estimated times of arrival from check-in to boarding gate, all without generating a paper trail.  Airlines can also request wheelchairs and provide check-in information online to APS.  The system also allows direct, two-way communication between APS’ central dispatch and its wheelchair assistants via the app, and retains communication and location records that can be used to evaluate service levels and deployment efficiency.

The WAIS-Track system was developed over two years.  APS worked with software developer Antikythera Technologies, Beverly Hills, to build the system’s smartphone app.  Over 86 beacons are deployed throughout TBIT as part of an initial network rollout.  APS’ entire wheelchair fleet can be tracked during any given work shift.

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