Come Fly with me
How You Can Make Airport Parking More Customer-Friendly and Profitable
By Bill Smith
There’s no understating the importance of parking to airport operations. It typically is one of the largest revenue sources for airports, and for some it is the largest—even greater than airline fees.
At the same time, most airports face fierce competition from cheaper off-site parking facilities. These can make a serious dent in any airport’s bottom line, and airports need to find ways to protect their parking revenue.
For many, the answer can be found in parking technology. In recent years, a host of new technologies have been introduced that make parking operations more efficient and customer-friendly.
“Technology is transforming parking,” said Tim Flanagan, a Principal with Sentry by Skidata, a national provider of parking solutions and technology. “And many of the tools that have been introduced in recent years are particularly well-suited to airport parking.”
Better Customer Service and a Healthier Bottom Line
Among the most important of these is parking access and revenue control system (PARCS) technology. Modern PARC systems permit airports to fully automate access and revenue control systems. Eliminating the need to staff exit booths can save airports thousands of dollars in staffing costs every year, while at the same time dramatically reducing the risk of theft from outsiders and employees.
“More important, automated PARC systems provide enormous customer service benefits,” Flanagan said. “Pay-on-foot and card in/card out systems make it much more convenient for travelers to get in and out of parking facilities. When arriving after a long flight, the last thing you want is to be stuck trying to exit a parking facility. ... Automated access and revenue control helps travelers get home more quickly.”
Neill Hurley, with Walker Parking Consultants, agreed that automation is an important trend, and said that there are more options than ever. He pointed to automatic vehicle identification (AVI) as another important access and revenue control technology. Common on America’s toll roads, it has been adopted for use by airports as a means to provide more convenient access to their parking facilities.
“Many airports have turned to AVI in recent years,” Hurley said. “The systems recognize a driver’s AVI tag and automatically provide access to appropriate parking areas. Some airports are taking it a step further and integrating with electronic toll collection systems like EZ Pass to collect parking fees.
“These systems are great, because they permit travelers to enter and exit parking facilities while barely tapping their brakes. But it can be complicated to integrate the technology with the PARC systems,” Hurley said, “and airports must negotiate interoperability agreements with the local toll road authorities. Still, when they can be successfully integrated, these systems offer immense customer service advantages.”
“The key to airport parking is helping travelers find spaces near their terminal as quickly and conveniently as possible,” Hurley said. “The customer service advantages presented by parking guidance systems are huge.”
They use single-space sensors to determine whether a particular space is occupied, and a series of highly visible lights to indicate to drivers the status of each space. Sensors can be either mounted in the ground or located above individual spaces.
Typically, they are connected to the airport’s parking grid and can be linked to dynamic signs at the entrance to each floor and the end of each aisle to provide real-time information about how many open spaces are available on a particular floor or in an aisle.
The sensors also collect utilization data, so that airport administrators can measure how often each space is used each day, and how long the average parking stay is. This can be invaluable information as administrators strive to create parking regulations that maximize efficiency and profits.
“Parking guidance systems can make a huge difference at an airport,” said Dale Fowler of Indect U.S.A. “When you are rushing to make a flight, the last thing you can afford is to drive around for 15 or 20 minutes looking for a parking space. The LED lights on the parking sensors are so bright and easy to understand that drivers should be able to find open parking spaces in a matter of seconds.
“When you consider that it can take 20 or 30 minutes to park at a satellite lot and take a shuttle bus to the terminal, the speed and convenience of on-site facilities with parking guidance can provide an extraordinary competitive advantage,” Fowler said.
“When you get travelers to their terminals 20 or 30 minutes faster, that’s time they can spend at restaurants and other concessions inside the terminal,” Hurley added.
Parking guidance is already growing in popularity at airports across the country. Most see the value in providing information about parking availability to their customers, and they’re doing it in many different ways. Single-space parking guidance systems have been installed at major airports such as Dallas/Fort Worth, as well as smaller airports such as John Wayne in Santa Ana, CA.
Another trend at many airports is to provide premium parking products to frequent flyers and travelers who are willing to pay a bit more for added convenience.
“The technology is available for airports to offer many more premium parking products,” Hurley said. “One premium offering growing in popularity is guaranteed parking. Travelers can reserve a space before leaving home and be assured that that space will be waiting for them when they get to the airport.
“Not only is this a great customer service benefit for travelers, but airports are able to generate additional revenues by charging a premium for these spaces.”
Often, premium guaranteed parking spaces will be located in a separate area of a facility with their own entry and exit gates. This configuration offers the additional convenience of allowing premium parkers to avoid any congestion that may occur in general parking areas when arriving or departing the airport.
Automakers are constantly introducing new technologies into their vehicles, and in the coming years, one of the largest areas of growth will be in so-called connected vehicles. They will have vehicle infrastructure communications and will be connected to the grid. They will be able to communicate with traffic technology and recommend which routes to take to avoid congestion, and they will also take drivers directly to available parking spaces and automatically pay for the exact amount of parking time.
“Connected vehicles will have their own parking apps that will be able to display the airport’s parking availability in real-time,” Hurley said. “Travelers’ cars will be able to direct them right to the available parking spaces that are closest to their terminals, and they would also be able to pay for parking. It will be a quick and seamless process.”
Parking technology has had a tremendous impact on airport parking. Improved PARC equipment, guidance systems, and online amenities have made parking easier and more cost-effective to manage, and more efficient. Perhaps more important, the customer service benefits these technologies provide are permitting airports to compete more effectively with off-site and off-price satellite parking providers.
“This is an exciting time to a parking professional,” Flanagan said. “Amazing new technologies are constantly being introduced to the industry, and the pace of innovation is constantly accelerating.
“When it comes to parking technology, the next few years are going to be incredible.”
Contact Technical Writer Bill Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.