When BBC television journalist Frank Gardner tweeted in March about his frustration over being stuck on an empty aircraft at London Heathrow Airport for more an hour because his wheelchair could not be located, he shone a light on an issue that is starting to gain traction.

As it stands, air travel lags behind other modes of transport when it comes to accommodating people with disabilities.

While this lag is largely related to strict safety regulations and the lack of space in aircraft cabins, disability campaigners are pushing for more to be done to enable passengers with reduced mobility (PRM) to bring their own wheelchairs into the cabin, or to certify an airline-owned wheelchair that can be pushed onto the aircraft and fixed to a row of seats.

Either of these solutions, argue campaigners, would allow disabled passengers to board aircraft with greater ease and without the need to be physically transferred from an aisle wheelchair to a standard aircraft seat that is not tailored to their needs.

But neither solution is available yet. As the International Air Transport Association (IATA) points out: “Aircraft seats are constructed to meet rigorous safety regulations that include survivability at several times the force of gravity. So at the present time, these certified aircraft seats are the only permissible seating for all passengers.

“The same certification is not imposed on other modes of transport. This is why trains or buses, for instance, can accommodate a wider range of options.”

Nevertheless, some industry watchers believe that if the aviation industry does not devise a way to improve disabled access, regulators could step in and force the issue.

“Unless the industry gets its act together, this will be imposed on them,” says Paul Priestman, chairman of UK-based design consultancy PriestmanGoode.

Priestman is calling for stakeholders from across the aviation industry to work together to implement a solution aimed at making air travel a less stressful and traumatic experience for disabled passengers.

In 2012, his consultancy designed a detachable wheelchair concept to facilitate air travel for PRMs. The Air Access concept features a wheelchair with pivoting wheels that slide sideways to be locked onto a fixed-framed aisle seat.

While Airbus, Embraer and Lufthansa were “interested” in the concept when it launched, Priestman says there was “no momentum” when it came to the seat manufacturers and the issue of funding development.

“There are three parties, but they’re not talking to each other,” he says. “We’ve hit a logjam with no one party wanting to take the lead, and this has to do with competing manufacturers not wanting to work together.”

There are signs that things are changing, however.

Disability campaigner Chris Wood, founder of Flying Disabled, organized the Wheelchair in the Cabin Symposium last September, which was hosted by Virgin Atlantic Airways. Attendees included Airbus, Air Canada, IATA and UK government officials. The aim of the event was to discuss the possibility of creating a wheelchair space in a commercial aircraft cabin.

Following the event, Wood says he has been invited to discuss the issue further with the UK government, IATA and the European Air Safety Agency.

Airbus says it has remained in contact with Flying Disabled and its counterpart in the U.S., All Wheels Up, and will this month attend a working group at wheelchair securement systems manufacturer Q’Straint’s Florida offices where, it says, “the idea of in-cabin wheelchair securement will be discussed by the main stakeholders.”

All Wheels Up is in the process of crash-testing wheelchair tie-downs and wheelchairs that could potentially be certified for use on commercial flights. It is confident that existing wheelchair restraints manufactured by Q’Straint for other modes of transport could “exceed” the FAA’s 16g requirement and says it is working with U.S. regulators to push this forward.

In the event that a wheelchair frame and restraint system can be certified, the challenge will then be finding a suitable space in the cabin, as Geraldine Lundy, passenger accessibility manager at Virgin Atlantic, explains.

“Regulations mean that you can’t put someone in a wheelchair at the door. And if you envisage how narrow the aisles are on any aircraft existing at the moment, you wouldn’t be able to fit the wheelchair down the aisle, so you would need to work with the manufacturers,” says Lundy. “The really good thing is that people are now working on it. I think it will happen but there is still a way to go.”

Lundy believes it could take another 10-15 years before passengers will be able to bring their own wheelchairs into the cabin and remain seated in them during flight. She says that PriestmanGoode’s Air Access concept, or another similar concept, “would be the most achievable next step.”

Dan Freeman, director of payloads and customer engineering at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, says Boeing is “supportive of efforts that allow more cabin access for people with disabilities.” He adds: “While there are confines and challenges when designing a cabin, we continue to innovate and work with our customers to configure the cabin in ways that support the needs of airlines and their passengers and crew.”

On the seat manufacturer side, Rockwell Collins says its seating “has complied with the [U.S.] Department of Transportation regulations” for PRMs, adding: “The airframers work closely with regulatory bodies and institutes around the world on reduced physical mobility.”