THE PARADOX OF COMPETITION FOR AIRLINE PASSENGERS WITH REDUCED MOBILITY (PRM)
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disabled passengers, costs, regulation, competitiveness
Airline competition with customer service as product differentiator has forced down costs, air fares and investor returns. Two passenger markets operate in aviation: (a) able-bodied passengers for whom airlines compete and (b) passengers with reduced mobility (PRMs) – disabled by age, obesity or medical problems – for whom airlines do not compete. Government interference in the market intended to protect a minority of narrowly-defined PRMs has had unintended consequences of enabling increasing numbers of more widely-defined PRMs to access complimentary airline provisions. With growing ageing and overweight populations and long-haul travelling medical tourists such regulation could lead to even lower investors’ returns. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) (2013) examined the air transport value chain for competitiveness using Porter’s (2008) five forces but did not distinguish between able-bodied passengers and PRMs. Findings during an investigation of these two markets concurred with IATA-Porter that the markets for the bargaining powers of PRM buyers and PRM suppliers were highly competitive. However, in contrast to the IATA conclusions, intensity of competition, and threats from new entrants and substitute products for PRM travel were low. The conclusion is that airlines are strategically PRM defensive by omission. Paradoxically, the airline which delivers the best PRM customer service could become the least profitable.