Friday, June 17, 2022

Irish airports, Shannon Airport and Ireland West airport, have today become the first airports in the world to be recognised as Age Friendly airports by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Both airports were officially launched as Age Friendly Airports, certified by the WHO, at a ceremony in Ireland West Airport, officiated by the Hildegarde Naughton TD, Minister of State at the Department of Transport.

Age Friendly Airport guidelines were drafted for certification by the World Health Organisation, based on walkability studies and reports carried out at the two airports.

Congratulating the airports, Hildegarde Naughton TD, Minister of State at the Department of Transport said:

“Ireland has taken an international lead in making the airport environment age friendly and we now look forward to sharing this learning with other airports around the world. Making sure that airport facilities are Age Friendly is an effective way to enhance their accessibility and usability for everyone. It ensures that domestic passengers feel confident in organizing a trip abroad and it makes Ireland more attractive as a destination to older travellers from other countries.”

The airports have worked closely with Age Friendly Ireland and their respective local authorities to enhance their services for older people.

Age Friendly Ireland is a local government shared service that supports all of society to prepare for population ageing. At present in Ireland, there are about 742,000 people aged 65 and over. The number and proportion of older people is set to increase exponentially in the coming years due to a demographic trend called population ageing. All facilities and aspects of society need to be more aware of older people’s needs and ensure that the built environment and services are fully accessible to older people. This work contributes towards this government’s vision of an Age Friendly Ireland as set out in the Programme for Government.

In order to become recognised as Age Friendly Airports, Shannon and Ireland West Airport consulted extensively with their older customers via the Older People’s Councils hosted by local government. This included carrying out ‘walkability audits’ of the buildings and their environs. These audits examined seating, signage, footpaths, car parking, toilet and other facilities and access routes. Both airports scored well for their existing facilities, but also identified improvements needed, and subsequently rolled out a work plan to develop their amenities as age friendly.

New features installed in Shannon Airport as a result of this process included designated age friendly parking, better signage, age friendly seating, covered walkways from aircraft into the terminal, along with an existing Person of Reduced Mobility (PRM) Service with dedicated staff to assist older people transit from arrival at Shannon Airport to the aircraft. Shannon is home to Europe’s first airport sensory room for passengers of all ages with sensory and neurodevelopmental needs. It has also recently introduced a new high-tech scanning system which removes the 100ml only rule for liquids carried in cabin bags. As a result of this the time passengers spend in the airport’s security screening area has been halved.

Following its consultation with older people, Ireland West Airport Knock installed extra seating in arrivals and departures area, an adult changing facility, new signage, new equipment airside (ambilift and ramp), and delivered staff training.

CEO of Shannon Group Mary Considine explains why they are so committed to age friendly principles: “It is wonderful to be here on this auspicious day and to be one of two airports on Ireland’s west coast leading the way to being age friendly by enhancing facilities for older people and becoming as inclusive as possible. Achieving Age Friendly Airport status not only benefits our older passengers, but all of our customers and staff. It facilitates the promotion of Ireland as an ‘Age Friendly’ country. Shannon Airport has already adopted an Age Friendly culture by striving to ensure that our customers’ experience, regardless of age or ability, is enjoyable, simple and stress free. Our Customer Charter demonstrates a commitment to putting our customers at the heart of all we do.”

Consultants Dr Sean O’Riordain and Jack Keyes were involved with the airports from an early stage and worked on the development of Age Friendly Airport Guidelines. This publication is available on www.agefriendlyireland.ie  and can be used as a template for other airports and indeed transport hub in Ireland and internationally as a replicable model.

Key features of an age friendly airport include low noise levels, places to rest and sit, safe passageways and pathways, pedestrian access, accessible toilets, a secure environment and good public transport, and clear signage for displaying airline arrivals and departures information.

Joe Gilmore, CEO of Ireland West Airport Knock said: “We are absolutely delighted to have achieved national recognition for our work towards creating a more age friendly environment at the airport. Over the past two years the airport has been working to transform the airport experience for our customers through the enhancement of our services and facilities and throughout the process have worked in collaboration with the teams at Age Friendly Ireland and Mayo County Council to ensure the transformation works and service offering met with the requirements of the Age Friendly Recognition Programme.”

With these two airports now recognised as Age Friendly, Ireland is very much open for business for older people across the world to come here and sample our wonderful tourism offerings, hospitality, adventure and culture.

Chief Officer of Age Friendly Ireland, Catherine McGuigan commented on the significance of these developments: “Many older people enjoy the opportunity to travel particularly in later life. Navigating airports can be a challenge for older people who may experience conditions such as reduced mobility or vision impairment, or who simply find it difficult to stand and queue for long periods of time. I commend Shannon and Ireland West Airport Knock for their stellar work in listening to their older customers and responding appropriately. With the ageing demographic, there will be an increasing expectation for all environments to be fully Age Friendly. This launch today yet again shows how Ireland excels in its commitment to older people and puts us on a map internationally for older people who wish to travel here and have a very pleasant airport experience.”

Attending today’s launch were Marie Flanagan, Chair of Mayo’s Older People’s Council and Maurice Harvey, Chair of Clare Older People’s Council, Marie said: “As a Mayo person, a proud member of Mayo’s OPC and as a regular user of Ireland West Airport Knock, I am delighted to be part of the process that recognizes our local airport as an Age Friendly Airport. I am greatly reassured of the ease of access and customer support that is available at this airport. There is great comfort in planning your journey knowing that it will be stress free”.

Maurice commented: “I greatly welcome the designation of Shannon Airport & Ireland West Airport as the World’s First official Age Friendly Airports. Both offer a hassle-free experience from parking to boarding which make them particularly suitable for older people travelling. The Older People’s Councils have carried out various audits of both facilities and we are pleased to note that the observations and suggestions which we have made have been taken on board by both Airport Authorities”.

This work was supported by Mayo County Council, Clare County Council and Limerick City and County Council via their Age Friendly Programmes. Pat Dowling, Chief Executive of Clare County Council and Chair of the National Age Friendly Alliances said:

“An Age Friendly Airport should facilitate its passengers to feel safe, comfortable and relaxed, regardless of the barriers they face. Based on the valuable input we have received from members of the Older People’s Councils and working with our colleagues in both Shannon & Knock Airport we are proud to have achieved this”.

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