Following an incident in which a paraplegic passenger was forced to crawl up a boarding ramp, airlines from October must provide boarding equipment at local airports that do not have a boarding bridge.

Sources at the transport ministry said the decision will accelerate efforts to remove barriers for the disabled, especially with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics looming in 2020.

Attention to the problems faced by the disabled was raised in June 2017 when Hideto Kijima, 45, of Osaka Prefecture, tried to board a Vanilla Air flight from Kansai International Airport to Amami Airport in southern Kagoshima Prefecture.

Kijima was initially told by staff at the boarding counter that he could not take the flight because Amami Airport only had a boarding ramp and regulations forbid those unable to walk under their own power from boarding flights for Amami.

But Kijima told the staff that his travel companions would assist him down the boarding ramp, and he was allowed to take the flight. His companions did, in fact, carry Kijima in his wheelchair down the ramp.

However, when it came time for the return flight, staff at Amami Airport said it was prohibited to have the wheelchair carried up the ramp so Kijima had to use his arms to crawl up the 17-step ramp, taking about three to four minutes.

The resulting public uproar and questions raised about how airport staff dealt with the matter led transport ministry officials to consider what changes were needed. The decision was made to revise provisions in the laws covering removal of barriers for the disabled as well as the Civil Aeronautics Law to obligate airline companies to provide the necessary equipment so the disabled can board planes anywhere in Japan.

There are various options available to airlines, such as using a portable slope to help a wheelchair passenger board the plane or various lifting equipment attached to a vehicle that can be parked next to the aircraft.

Until now, there have been no legal regulations about providing assistance to the disabled who want to board at airports without a boarding bridge.

Airlines will have to add the measures they plan to provide to assist the disabled in their operating plans and obtain approval from the transport ministry.

Kijima, who heads Barrier-Free Consulting in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, has used a wheelchair since he lost the use of his legs in an injury he suffered at rugby practice in high school.

He said while he was grateful for the efforts being made to provide better equipment, he added that not only hardware, but proper training of airport staff was also needed to remove barriers for the disabled at airports.

Akihiro Mihoshi, a professor emeritus at Kindai University who has specialized in barrier-free designs, said obligating airlines to provide equipment was a huge first step because many wheelchair users had resigned themselves to not taking smaller planes that could only be boarded using a ramp.

"There will also be a need to develop an environment so that staff working at various airports will be able to provide assistance in a flexible manner when they see a need for such support," he said.