Exploring the medical lift market for PRMs

Jonas Puck, Chair and Professor International Business, WU Vienna, shares exclusive insights on the growth of the ambulift market.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development places a significant emphasis on inclusivity, advocating for the integration of persons with disabilities across all sectors.

With approximately 1.3 billion people worldwide facing significant disabilities, achieving inclusive travel remains a formidable challenge. This is largely due to the persistent inaccessibility of transportation systems. As more passengers with reduced mobility (PRM) travel by air, aircraft accessibility becomes an imperative for all players in the airlines industry. Driven by this need, we have assessed the market for ambulifts/medical lifts in a cooperation between WU Vienna and intior consulting.

Market trends and demand for PRM assistance
The segment of passengers with reduced mobility is among the fastest growing in the aviation industry, with annual growth rates ranging from 6% to 8%. By the end of 2023, global air traffic passengers nearly reached pre-pandemic levels, totalling 4.287 million passengers, marking a significant rebound in the aviation industry. Forecasts predict a further increase to 4.708 million passengers in 2024. 

Data from UK airports indicate that in 2022 1.56% of the total passenger volume received PRM assistance, accounting for approximately. An industry analysis of European airports suggests that 42% of PRMs required start-to-end assistance in a wheelchair and cannot board or disembark the aircraft independently.

In total, approximately 0.7% of global air traffic passengers currently require start-to-end assistance to board and disembark the aircraft. In an average flight with 150 people, this translates to at least 1 PRM per flight. However, on larger aircraft like the A380-800 with 520 seats, there would already be 3-4 PRM per flight. This strong and growing demand for PRM solutions underscores the urgent need for efficient and effective support systems.

In consequence, the market for medical lifts/ambulifts, which are crucial for assisting PRM, is substantial. We calculate that 4,300 medical lift vehicles are needed to meet current global demand. Assuming a rather conservative growth rate of 6.7% we project that almost 300 additional vehicles will be needed annually, excluding replacement investments. Overall, this leads to a global PRM market value that significantly exceeds €1 billion.

Solutions, competition, and innovations
Companies recognise the increasing demand for medical lifts/ambulifts within the aviation sector. The offerings to assist PRM access are multifaceted and range from boarding ramps and stairs with lifting systems, via classical scissor lifts, to solutions based on telescope technology.

The strongest competition exists in the market segment of repurposed standard scissor lift systems. Telescope technology manufacturer(s) are gaining market share. However, the competitive landscape among providers of these emerging solutions remains limited.

All solutions come with specific advantages and disadvantages related to boarding times, labour-intensity, positioning at the aircraft, floor-flush access, or docking time. For example, boarding ramps and stairs with lifting systems can be operated by a single person, but at the same time require long boarding times with multiple PRM.

‘Classical’ scissor lifts are very durable and come with a proven track record, but often do not offer floor-flush access and can require multiple employees for operation. Side lifts and telescope lifts can be operated by a single person, but current side lift offerings require twice the space on the apron because the cabin is placed laterally on the ground and alternative offerings to not provide floor-flush access.

Our analysis finds that side lift and telescope lift solutions yield the highest future potential due to several optimisations and efficiency gains. Specifically, this is as these solutions can provide full floor-level access, offer self-propelled electric and non-electric drive solutions, can be operated by a single person, and can be operated very flexibly. Nevertheless, we feel that current offering still offer room for relevant innovations. Specifically, airports request solutions that do offer floor-flush access, durable electric drive solutions, and less space on the apron. As Linda Ristagno, IATA’s Assistant Director for External Affairs puts it: “As demand for special assistance grows, we will need to find more tailored ways to meet the needs of travellers with special needs.” 

The air travel industry faces significant challenges in accommodating the growing number of passengers with reduced mobility. The emphasis on inclusivity in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development highlights the importance of integrating persons with disabilities into all aspects of travel.

Despite the substantial market value and rising demand, current medical lift/ambulift solutions can still be improved. Most relevantly, an offer that combines of floor-level access, limited demand for space on the apron, durable electric drive, and low labour intensity would be a relevant innovation that provides an opportunity to lead the market.

The study underlying this short contribution is available free of charge from the author 


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