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111 7.1 Customer Experience The current customer experience with boarding and disembarking is characterized by inconsistent policies and procedures, design obstacles, and a general lack of knowledge in how to best assist travelers with disabilities, especially those who are nonambulatory. Based on complaints to airlines and feedback from the disability community and aviation industry alike, more focus is required on boarding and disembarking procedures and the safe stowage and handling of assistive devices. Communication issues for individuals with sensory disabilities in the gate area have been addressed in Chapter 6. When preboarding is rushed, their requests for accommodation tend to be overlooked, which is a common service failure. It also may mean that individual safety briefings and orientations do not take place onboard the plane. The Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to allow travelers with disabilities to preboard (i.e., board the aircraft before all other travelers, including first class and other priority passen- gers) (Part 382.93 and 382.123). Preboarding should always allow enough time for travelers to board in a dignified and safe manner, without a long line of other passengers behind them, and without an audience if a lift and transfer is required. Rushing the latter process is particularly unsafe. Focus group participants described this process as âunsettling,â âscary,â and âimpossible to uphold dignity in that chair with your arms strapped across your chest and being tilted back- wards to enter the aircraft.â At the destination airport, the lift and transfer process to disembark is similar to that of boarding, although more private. Travelers who require wheelchair assistance or an escort from the door of the plane are encouraged by flight crew to remain onboard until the rest of the passengers have deplaned. After mobility devices are brought up from stowage, nonambulatory passengers are assisted to disembark. This allows for more space in the jet bridge and for more privacy. This is when the timely return of an assistive device is key. With health and safety of upmost importance, travelers who require an aisle chair for boarding and deplaning should not be left in the hard-surfaced aisle chair for longer than the transition from the boarding bridge to the airplane seat and vice versa. It is crucial to return assistive devices to the boarding bridge, as close as possible to the door of the aircraft. Return of mobility devices to the gate rather than to baggage claim is mandated by Air Carrier Access Act regulations unless the passenger requests otherwise or safety or security issues preclude it. 7.2 Access to Information: Assistive Devices As a result of the 2004â2006 Open Doors Organization Airline Symposia, participants decided to create two tools to help in transporting assistive devices. First was an individual tag to be C H A P T E R 7 BoardingâDisembarking and StowingâRetrieving Assistive Devices
112 Innovative Solutions to Facilitate Accessibility for Airport Travelers with Disabilities placed on the device while boarding. The purpose of the tag is to help explain how to stow the assistive device, describe key features such as the weight and location of important operational parts, identify which parts have been taken into the cabin, and explain how to reassemble the device before repatriation. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines were the first carriers to test the idea, and by 2008 every U.S. carrier had followed suit. Second was the creation of a web-based formâeasily downloaded and printedâthat a passenger could fill out and bring to the airport to give to airline personnel. The form has room for written descriptions and a place to attach photos. Its main purpose is to provide the passenger with a way to give a highly detailed description of how to properly stow the device. Not all U.S. carriers chose to use this form, but Continental Airlines and United Airlines were among the first, and a few others have followed. When revised in 2008, Air Carrier Access Act regulations included a new requirement that airlines accept written directions for disassembly and reassembly of wheelchairs and other assistive devices from passengers and carry them out to the greatest extent feasible. However, these two ideas have never been used to their full potential. Most often, the carrier does not fill out the individual tag, and passengers generally have no idea that there is a downloadable form available. If these methods were more widely used, research by Open Doors Organization suggests that they could help reduce damage to assistive devices and flight delays. This is discussed further in Section 7.6. 7.3 Moving to and from the Plane Many of the passengers with limited mobility brought to the gate by wheelchair or electric cart may choose to walk down the jet bridge on their own. Given the uneven and sometimes steep slopes and transitions of jet bridges, others will need a wheelchair right to the door of the plane. Service company employees usually provide this assistance. Individuals with vision loss may be escorted by airline gate personnel or by a service provider and then assisted by flight crew once onboard. For passengers who are nonambulatory, transitioning from the wheelchair to the airplane and back can be one of the most daunting tasks for them and for service personnel. For these passengers, the process is as follows: â¢ The passenger rolls in his or her own chair down the boarding bridge, over transitions, to the landing vestibule, either independently or with assistance. â¢ From the landing vestibule, the wheelchair is positioned next to the airline aisle chair for transfer. â¢ The passenger self-transfers or airline personnel lift the passenger from the wheelchair to a small, modified wheelchair called an aisle chair that will fit down the narrow aisle. These aisle chairs are uncomfortable, leave very little dignity to the passenger, and are often the major point of dissension among wheelchair users. Many travelers with disabilities will not travel because of the aisle chair. â¢ The passenger is pushed in the aisle chair onto the plane and down the narrow aisle to the seat. It is important that the passenger be strapped properly into the aisle chair to avoid injury from legs or arms bumped against seats. â¢ Finally, the passenger self-transfers or is lifted from the aisle chair into the aircraft seat. This can often be challenging because of how the airline personnel have to reach from behind the row of seats to get a solid grasp on the passenger for the transfer. This process is repeated in reverse upon arrival for disembarkation. The preferred method of enplaning for passengers who use wheelchairs is to roll their own chair onto the aircraft and then self-transfer or be lifted directly into the aircraft seat. This is
BoardingâDisembarking and StowingâRetrieving Assistive Devices 113 only possible on aircraft that do not have a forward galley closet, such as those in the Southwest Airlines fleet. 7.4 Means of Access/Boarding Equipment 7.4.1 Eagle Lift A product from Australia, the Eagle Liftâalong with a second model, Eagle 2âis an inno- vative device manufactured by Haycomp PTY, Ltd., a company specializing in lifting solutions for wheelchair users who are unable to self-transfer (Figure 7-1). In boarding or deplaning, a transfer assistance team helps the traveler position the sling underneath his or her body. Once the sling is connected to the Eagle Lift, the transfer team operates the lift to raise the traveler and sling and maneuvers it onto the aircraft and down the aisle to the seat, where the traveler is lowered and seated for takeoff. The Eagle Lift minimizes the amount of heavy lifting and provides the traveler with a dignified transfer, free from close physical handling by strangers. Because the lift is too large to be stored on a boarding bridge, a nearby storage location is needed that should be in close proximity to multiple gates for quick access. The Eagle Lift is not widely used, but HartsfieldâJackson Atlanta International, MinneapolisâSaint Paul International, San Francisco International, and London Heathrow have them on site. 7.4.2 Personal Passenger Transfer Kits and Slings A passenger transfer kit typically includes at least three items: a gait belt, a transfer sling, and a slide board (Figure 7-2). Usually purchased by the air carrier, these kits are currently in use by JetBlue Airways and Alaska Airlines, both of which have custom passenger transfer kits. Figure 7-1. The Eagle Lift for airline passengers who use wheelchairs (Source: Haycomp PTY, Ltd.).
114 Innovative Solutions to Facilitate Accessibility for Airport Travelers with Disabilities A gait belt is commonly used in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and assisted living centers. The belt goes around a personâs waist and is held by an assistant standing behind to help keep the person upright. It can be used onboard an aircraft to help a passenger who is semiambulatory or has balance issues walk safely to and from the restroom. The transfer sling has four handholds and can be used by two additional assistants when lifting a passenger who is too heavy for a standard two-person lift and transfer. It also provides a more dignified transfer, especially for women, since there is no need for service personnel to reach around the upper torso. Eliminating tight grasping also benefits those for whom touch is painful. The sling, which is easy to slide into position behind the travelerâs back and under the legs, comes in multiple designs that are similar in concept. The slide board helps bridge the gap between the seat and aisle chair (or wheelchair and aisle chair) and is usually employed during self-transfers. It may also help flight crew when transferring passengers to and from the onboard wheelchair, since it enables the lift to be performed in stages safely. Passengers who self-transfer and use a slide board in their daily life will likely bring this assistive device with them. Adapts makes a sling designed for an emergency (Figure 7-3). While an airline could keep this sling on the aircraft, it typically is brought onboard by the passenger and placed on the seat before he or she is transferred. In the event of an incident on the flight, the sling is already in place and ready to use for a quick evacuation. The easyTravelseat from Able Move, a UK company, is another sling purchased by the traveler but meant for use in assisted transfers, as well as in emergencies. Its unique feature is a double-layered cushion to alleviate pressure on the lower back and buttocks area when seated on the aisle chair or aircraft seat. This sling addresses a major concern for travelers with paralysis: pressure sores that are hard to heal because of poor circulation and that can require lengthy hospital stays. The padding also protects the traveler during the lift and transfer to and from the wheelchair, the aisle chair, and the seat. Figure 7-2. Passenger transfer kit with sling and slide board (left) and gait belt (right).
BoardingâDisembarking and StowingâRetrieving Assistive Devices 115 7.5 Innovations in Boarding and Disembarking 7.5.1 Boarding Bridges Boarding bridges have revolutionized the boarding and deplaning process for all travelers. But there are still major issues affecting their accessibility, such as the lack of handrails that span the entire boarding bridge, steep transitional slopes, and low lighting. Boarding bridges with telescoping handrails are uncommon but are becoming more prevalent. It is also important to have space on the boarding bridge vestibule to enable the proper lift and transfer of passengers from their wheelchair to the aisle chair. Having this vestibule out of sight of the general boarding area would also help to create a more dignified process. One modification to improve stowage of wheelchairs is the installation of elevators between gatesâas at AustinâBergstrom Internationalâor simple lifts from the tarmac to the boarding bridge vestibule, as at Dallas Love Field Airport, Charlotte Douglas International, and Chicago OâHare International. Customizing of boarding bridges varies from airport to airport becauseâ in some situationsâthe airport will determine and procure the boarding bridge, while in others the airline is responsible. Having both groups involved with the design and procurement of boarding bridges may be preferable. The slope of the boarding bridge is a major cause of injury, especially for older adults and people with disabilities who need and should be given extra time to board. Often the carrier announces the continuation of boarding immediately after calling passengers with disabilities to preboard. This has not changed despite specific guidance from the U.S. DOT advising carriers to discontinue the practice (U.S. Department of Transportation 2013). ThyssenKrupp is a leading manufacturer of boarding bridges and considers their bridges to be highly customizable. While there is no mention of access in their airport solutions, there does appear to be space to add a lift or an elevator. The company is also a leading manufacturer of accessible platform and stair lifts, some of which could be adapted for placement on the outside or inside of a boarding bridge. ThyssenKrupp also makes state-of-the art glass bridges, but they have yet to release any universal design concepts. Tokyo Haneda Airport has 16 barrier-free passenger boarding bridges that feature the worldâs first completely flat tunnel corridor (Figure 7-4). This design is different from typical boarding Figure 7-3. Emergency portable transfer sling and demonstration of in-flight use (international and U.S. patent pending) (Source: Adapts).
116 Innovative Solutions to Facilitate Accessibility for Airport Travelers with Disabilities bridges, where uneven floors result from extending and retracting the bridge. There are no steep transition areas and little to no slope, which are major improvements. The side grooves typically placed on the outer edges of the bridge have also been removed. With the exception of Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National in Kansas, Huntsville Inter- national in Alabama, and Santa Barbara Municipal Airport in California, glass boarding bridges are more common outside of the United States (although regulatory changes in 2016 allowed glass to be used in the structure of boarding bridges). Previously, the National Fire Protection Association would not allow translucent materials to be used, although such materials would make it easier to locate and extract people on the boarding bridge during emergencies. It is also easier for passengers to see exactly where they are and what is going on around them, a benefit especially for people with claustrophobia and other psychological conditions. In 2013, the National Fire Protection Association issued the following statement: Current boarding bridges with glass walls/windows have been successfully tested in accordance with National Fire Protection Association Standards on Airport Terminal Buildings, Fueling Ramps, Drainage and Loading Walkways. Recent information developed for the committee suggests that use of glass will not significantly impact the probability of a successful aircraft evacuation. This data includes limitations of current bridge use, fire loss history, fuel drainage requirements, crew training in emergency evacuation procedures at the gate, and aircraft human factors studies (National Fire Protection Association 2013). 7.5.2 Boarding Ramps If there is no boarding bridge available, a hardstand operation will take place. This is when an aircraft has no available gate or boarding bridge attached to the terminal. Typically, the carrier will own a single flight of ramp stairs and will bring it to the door of the aircraft for boarding or deplaning. Hardstands in the U.S. occur most often at smaller airports where there are a limited number of boarding bridges. Research during this project revealed that many carriers are now considering use of aluminum switchback ramps as an alternative to ramp stairs. Alaska Airlines has been using this type of ramp for many years after struggling with stairs in inclement weather. These ramps are easier to navigate for all passengers, especially for older adults and those using wheeled luggage. However, in the U.S. one major question exists: Who would own these ramps and be responsible for their storage and maintenance? There are few common-use products at U.S. airports, making it difficult to determine who will purchase extra equipment. Figure 7-4. Exterior of a barrier-free passenger boarding bridge (left) and the flat surface on the interior of a barrier-free passenger boarding bridge (right) (Source: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Transportation Equipment Engineering and Service Company).
BoardingâDisembarking and StowingâRetrieving Assistive Devices 117 Keith Consolidated Industries (KCI) was one of the first companies to embrace the fact that people tend to prefer ramps to stairs, and the company offers custom manufacturing to enable access. KCIâs lightweight aluminum ramps have various inclement weather options, including canopies and side-cover windshields (Figure 7-5). They also have wheels and can be folded for storage. KCI ramps are used in HartsfieldâJackson Atlanta International, SeattleâTacoma International, Ted Stevens Anchorage International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, and dozens of other airports across the United States. Aviramp offers six models of mobile jet bridges, including one model that features both stairs and a covered ramp with sideguards (Figure 7-6). A fully enclosed model is also available. Most ramps are handled by a single person and are nearly maintenance free. Motor Dolly, an electric motor attachment for wheelchairsâdescribed in Chapter 5âcan be particularly helpful on steep boarding ramp inclines. Figure 7-5. KCI boarding ramp (Source: Keith Consolidated Industries). Figure 7-6. Aviramp covered boarding ramp (left) and boarding ramp with sideguards (right) (Source: Aviramp).
118 Innovative Solutions to Facilitate Accessibility for Airport Travelers with Disabilities 7.5.3 High-Lift Trucks Many foreign airports have a specialized piece of equipmentâcommonly referred to as a âhigh-lift truckâ or âambuliftââthat allows a person using a wheelchair to skip the boarding bridge altogether. The truck rises to the level of the aircraft, enabling the passenger to boards or disembark via the airplane galley. If deplaning, the truck can take them directly to baggage claim or other locations. Chicago OâHare International is the only U.S. airport that has purchased a high-lift truck, an acquisition made at the request of the airportâs foreign carriers as these vehicles are used in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Outside of North America, the airport typically pays for and manages such vehicles. In the U.S., airports have instead invested in boarding bridges so that few large planes ever have hardstands. And because of the cost, most carriers cannot justify the expense. However, if U.S. airportsâor airports and airlines togetherâwere to be responsible for the cost, care, and logistics, this equipment would be a great service enhancement for passengers who use wheel- chairs. A high-lift truck would also be invaluable in an emergency when airplanes cannot access the terminal jet bridges and there is no other means to disembark nonambulatory passengers aside from first responders carrying them from the plane. For that reason, an emergency man- agement expert at the 2018 Open Doors Organization Universal Access in Airports conference suggested that the FAAâat least, in partâshould fund high-lift trucks. In many cases, the company contracted by the European airport to handle wheelchair service is also required in their bid process to procure and manage these specialized trucks. Few manufacturers build these types of vehicles, which partly contributes to their high price. Cost aside, these vehicles could eliminate a lot of the heavy lifting and transporting of both passengers and their assistive devices. They could also play a key role in limiting the amount of damage to assistive devices and improve on timeliness of their return to passengers. Bulmor offers a well-designed seating area inside their Sidebull lift with both strap-down points and seating for family members or travel companions (Figure 7-7). The cabins are also large enough to accommodate one to four wheelchairs (Figure 7-8). Bulmor has expanded the Sidebull lift system to include travelers with various physical limitations, referring to the Sidebull as a system for PRMs. The Lift-A-Loft disabled passenger lift is helpful for boarding larger jets such as the Boeing 747, 767, and 777 (Figure 7-9).This type of lift also works on narrow-body jets. The APX disabled passenger lift is slightly different in that it is enclosed (Figure 7-10). Figure 7-7. Bulmor Sidebull 2.0 (Source: Bulmor).
Figure 7-8. Traveler being loaded into Bulmor Sidebull 2.0 (Source: Bulmor). Figure 7-9. The Lift-A-Loft WBDPL3 disabled passenger lift (Source: Lift-A-Loft). Figure 7-10. The APX disabled passenger lift (Source: Lift-A-Loft).
120 Innovative Solutions to Facilitate Accessibility for Airport Travelers with Disabilities Mallaghan Engineering makes four versions of its passenger aid units, with the size dependent on payload requirements (Figure 7-11). The passenger cabins are equipped with air conditioning and heating, along with seating for family members. 7.5.4 Other Innovative Lift Equipment At smaller airports where regional jets are more common, advanced boarding equipment is usually unavailable, nor would many types work for the smaller aircraft. Instead, companies like Adaptive Engineering manufacture equipment such as the Mobilift AX to board a traveler over the stairs into the aircraft (Figure 7-12). Mobilifts are used in rail, as well as in aviation; hold up to 600 lbs.; and rise to a maximum height of 4 to 5 feet. These hand-cranked units are cost effective, easily portable on wheels, and built to withstand poor weather conditions. Figure 7-13 shows the Mobilift CX operated by one person. Figure 7-11. Passenger aid units (Source: Mallaghan Engineering Limited). Figure 7-12. Mobilift AX for boarding travelers in a wheelchair (Source: Adaptive Engineering, Inc.).
BoardingâDisembarking and StowingâRetrieving Assistive Devices 121 7.6 Traveling with an Assistive Device The Air Carrier Access Act permits airlines to require travelers with powered mobility devices to check in at the airport at least one hour prior to other passengers (Part 382.127 and 382.25). This is to allow enough time for the device to be safely transported to and stowed in the aircraft. The Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to return an assistive device to the traveler both in a timely manner and in the same condition as when it was initially stowed (Part 382.129). Meeting these requirements can be difficult because of structural and operational obstacles. According to the FAA, U.S. DOT, and U.S. Access Board, damage to assistive devices is common and has a significant financial impact on the airline industry because of the cost of repairs and replacements. To address this, the U.S. DOT in 2019 implemented a new reporting requirement whereby domestic airlines must submit data for the number of assistive devices stowed and transported in the cargo hold and the number of devices that are delayed or damaged. Wheelchairs are not manufactured with stowage in an aircraftâs cargo hold in mind, nor are aircraft designed to provide for the safe transport of heavy, fragile wheelchairs and other assistive devices. Although certain procedures can reduce the chance of damage, there is little consistency in following these throughout the industry. For example, a wheelchair can be tied down in the cargo hold, but stowage procedures in the U.S. rarely encourage this. Instead, the more common practice involves surrounding a wheelchair with luggage to act as a barrier between the device and other items in the hold. From 2002 to 2006, Open Doors Organization studied how airlines handle, stow, and trans- port assistive devices. A number of deficiencies in the ground-handling process were identified, the most common being the lack of communication among involved parties, specifically the traveler, ground handler, and airline. As a result, as described in Section 7.2, a tagging system was developed to open the lines of communication between travelers and ground handlers in an efficient, accurate manner. Prior to boarding, travelers fill out a tag with information about their device, including the weight and operational instructions. This tag is attached to the device, and Figure 7-13. Mobilift CX wheelchair lift (Source: Handi-Ramp).
122 Innovative Solutions to Facilitate Accessibility for Airport Travelers with Disabilities ground handlers can quickly review the information before stowage. This system also facilitates communication with ground crew at the destination airport. Training of ground personnel was also found to be lacking. In most cases, the proper handling of assistive devices was missing entirely from training curricula. In 2011, Open Doors Organizationâin partnership with Global Repair Groupâconducted stowage training for ground crew at London Heathrow as the airport prepared for the 2012 Summer Paralympics. The airport initiated the training as a service add-on for carriers and, as a result, ground crew representing more than 100 airlines participated in 2 weeks of training sessions. In addition to a brief classroom training, participants received hands-on practice in handling and stowing a variety of mobility devices on the airport apron. In response to these challenges, the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America has formed a Standards Committee on Assistive Technology for Air Travel to study the process of handling assistive devices. Among its goals are creation of a check- list to accompany assistive technology, development of handling procedures and training for ground crew, production of design specifications for assistive technology suitable for transport on commercial aircraft, and production and dissemination of information to air travelers using assistive technology. The committee has not published a report or announced a timeline, but anyone who wishes to learn more or to become involved should visit the Assistive Technology for Air Travel page at www.resna.org. Architecture and design also play a major role in safe, efficient movement of assistive devices from passenger hold rooms and boarding bridges to the loading ramp and cargo hold. This applies to both the interior and exterior of the airport. For example, an access path from the terminal building to the apron may have a curb or similar environmental obstruction. Ground handlers will need to lift a heavy powered deviceârisking damage to the device or injury to themselvesâor find an alternate path that could potentially cause a flight delay. U.S. DOT standards interpret the requirement for âpromptâ assistance in deplaning as âpersonnel and boarding chairs should be available to deplane the passenger no later than as soon as other passengers have left the aircraft.â A mobility device that has been stowed as cargo also must be brought to the jet bridge quickly. In airports where there is no simple or close means of connecting the gate to the apron, travelers are often faced with an extensive wait. In some cases, there are only stairs; in others, the elevator is a long distance away. Airport design strongly influences the operations of the carrier and differs widely from airport to airport. Bringing consistent outcomes could enhance the customer experience and make the entire process timelier. This is especially difficult when assistive devices are heavy or during inclement weather. 7.7 Specialized Equipment for Stowing and Retrieving Assistive Devices Over the past 15 years, there have been many attempts to find cost-effective ways to get wheelchairs and other assistive devices to and from the aircraft. Because size and weight are usually the problem, many of the devices described in this section are designed to address those two issues. Purchase of such specialized devices that are not used often is difficult to justify in a carrierâs budget. There are logistical issues, such as determining where the device would be stored at the airport, who maintains and dispatches it, and whether it is needed at a large station where there is adequate labor or whether it is more suitable for a smaller station. Another major issue is whether the airport or the airline should purchase and control the devices. Many airports in Europe and the U.S. also struggle to decide who is responsible for moving the devices from
BoardingâDisembarking and StowingâRetrieving Assistive Devices 123 the terminal or lounge area to the tarmac to prepare for loading, including filling out any tags and removing items that should be stowed in the aircraft cabin for safekeeping. Wheelchairs are often more secure in large, wide-body planes, since they are stowed in palletized containers, often with tie-downs to keep the devices in place. However, delay in retrieving the devices may occur because of the time it takes to unload the containers from the aircraft and transfer the wheelchairs to the boarding bridge. Elevators or lifts from the ground to the boarding bridge would make initial stowage more timely, as well. KCI has a wide array of products used in aviation for more than a decade. The KCI electric wheelchair trailer lift transports and lifts the chair directly onto the belt loader (Figure 7-14). On small aircraft, the lift can go directly to the cargo hold door, eliminating the need for ground crew to lift the device. The manually operated scissor lift is one of KCIâs most popular lifts, which holds up in inclement weather (Figure 7-15). One major problem identified during Open Doors Organization stowage research in 2006 was that airline ground crews had no way to secure devices to the belt loader andâfor safetyâ were not allowed to ride up the belt loader. To address this concern, Open Doors Organization designed a hinged belt loader holder. After the holder is placed on the belt loader in the open position, the wheelchair or scooter is rolled back onto the bottom plate of the holder and will travel without danger of falling off (Figure 7-16). This holder may also be transported with the mobility device. It weighs about 15 lbs. and holds up to 600 lbs. The Aviramp Mobiloader ramp loads wheelchairs into small aircraft without lifting (Figure 7-17). The slope is easy for one to two people to push the mobility device from the tarmac onto the ramp and directly onto the aircraft. These units can withstand inclement weather, and the height is adjustable. They also feature a solar recharge option. Figure 7-14. KCI electric wheelchair trailer lift (Source: Keith Consolidated Industries).
Figure 7-15. Manual wheelchair lift (Source: Keith Consolidated Industries). Figure 7-16. Belt loader holder (Source: Open Doors Organization). Figure 7-17. Mobiloader with power scooter (Source: Aviramp).