Soaring Beyond Limits: Inside Aerobility's Mission to Make Flight Accessible for All |  Owen Daniels  | Powering Global STEM
25th June 2024

Soaring Beyond Limits: Inside Aerobility's Mission to Make Flight Accessible for All


In line with the upcoming Owen Daniels and Farnborough Aerospace Consortium (FAC) charity golf day, Marketing Executive Verity Richards and HR & Compliance Officer Becky Fletcher from Owen Daniels visited Mike Miller-Smith and the dedicated team at Aerobility’s HQ in Blackbushe, Surrey.

Mike started his career training as a commercial pilot. After becoming disabled in his twenties, he subsequently entered the pharmaceutical and IT industries, holding senior marketing and management positions in global companies. Mike is now the Chief Executive of Aerobility.

Can you tell us a bit about Aerobility and its mission?

Aerobility is all about making the skies accessible. Our mission is to give everyone, regardless of physical impairment, mental health conditions, learning disabilities, or sensory impairments, the chance to fly. We adapt light aircraft and equipment to accommodate various needs, allowing individuals to handle the controls of an aircraft and even learn to fly. We also work with people and organisations around education and advocacy, aiming to make the aviation industry a better place for those with disabilities.

How does Aerobility advocate for better inclusion within the aviation industry?

The aviation industry has some work to do regarding diversity and inclusion, particularly concerning services for disabled people. Issues like broken wheelchairs and passengers being stranded on aircraft are often due to a lack of knowledge. By enabling more disabled people to work in the sector, we can significantly improve these services. Ultimately, it's about getting people up in the sky, which we believe is a pretty magical place.

Can you share more about Aerobility's history and expansion plans?

Aerobility has been around for 31 years. Our headquarters are here at Blackbushe Airport in Camberley, Surrey but we also have locations in the Midlands and Kent. We are looking to expand to other airfields throughout the UK. We have adapted aircraft and flying simulators that those in the disabled community can operate. We also work with various agencies and organisations to improve understanding and working environments for those with disabilities.

What are the key components of Aerobility’s programmes?

We focus on three main components: the flying side, the education side, and advocacy. We offer everything from one-off experience flights to full pilot's license training. In education, young disabled people can learn about all elements of aviation, not just piloting and engineering but also roles like fire safety and airline design. This provides skills and knowledge to the young community, so hopefully they can discover a future career in the aviation industry.  Our advocacy work involves improving employment rates and working conditions for people with disabilities in the aviation industry. Sector volunteers, such as those from the Farnborough Aerospace Consortium (FAC), are key to our programmes. They enable us to provide services to the community.

Aerobility has been involved in some unique projects and events. Can you highlight a few?

One of our standout moments was organising the world’s first night time air display over a capital city for the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, featuring a disabled pilot with fireworks on the wings. Another significant achievement was setting a Guinness World Record by pulling a 127.6-tonne British Airways Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner over 106 meters with a wheelchair team at Heathrow Airport.

You mentioned working with King’s College London and the European Space Agency. What does that entail?

We are collaborating with the King’s College London and European Space Agency to ensure that the future of space travel is inclusive of those with disabilities. This involves exploring how zero gravity could alleviate some physical disabilities, making space more accessible. Alongside this, we are working on how to future-proof the working environment to ensure accessibility within the industry.

How does Aerobility engage with the community and veterans?

About one-third of the people we support are veterans of military service. We cater to individuals aged 7 to 100. We also run an initiative called Aerobility Live, an armchair air show live-streamed so anyone can watch and participate from anywhere. Additionally, we've developed a Virtual Aviation Experience, allowing high-quality flight simulator sessions to be conducted remotely, enabling individuals to learn to fly.

Tell us about the "Building a Dream" project.

"Building a Dream" is a project where disabled people and volunteers from the industry have been working together to build an aeroplane. This initiative showcases the capabilities of disabled individuals and highlights their presence in aviation. The plane, almost finished, will be launched at the upcoming Farnborough International Air Show.

How does Aerobility fund its essential work?

Aerobility relies heavily on donations and fundraising events to support our mission, such as the upcoming charity golf day you and the FAC are kindly hosting. We also receive donations from individuals, corporate sponsors and grants from various organisations. These contributions are crucial as they enable us to adapt aircrafts, run our educational programmes and advocate for better inclusion within the aviation industry. Fundraising events not only provide financial support but also help raise awareness about our cause, bringing together communities and supporters who share our vision of making aviation accessible to all.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

Our goal is to continue expanding and improving services for disabled people in aviation. We want to show the industry that individuals with disabilities are natural innovators and valuable employees. By breaking barriers and improving accessibility, we aim to make the skies a place where everyone can soar.