Airport parking design: How to adapt to changing demands

Airport parking design: How to adapt to changing demands
Nov 13, 2018
3 Min. Read
The future of the airport business model isn’t restricted to the skies.

Digital innovation has transformed the way people get to and from the airport. With the fast pace of change in consumer preference, infrastructure demand, and technological advances, airport parking is about to undergo a major period of transformation.

Technology-based alternatives disrupt traditional ground transportation

Getting to an airport has traditionally been limited to a handful of choices—driving, taxis, and public transport. On average, more than 80 percent of passengers travel to U.S. airports by car; parking accounted for $4.2 billion of U.S. airport revenue in 2017.

However, changing consumer behavior and the rise of technology-based disruptors is putting the status-quo under pressure, and with it the demand on airport infrastructure.

What exactly is driving this change? And does it represent a threat or an opportunity to airport operators?

Key changes impacting airport parking

Here are the five new transportation alternatives that have disrupted the car parking industry:

Mobility Options


Technology description


Transport network companies (TNCs) Uber
Uses websites and apps to pair passengers with drivers. Already well-developed and largely mature.

Floating transport


Short-term vehicle rentals with multiple designated parking bays across cities.

Less developed but increasingly popular.

Electric vehicles (EVs) Tesla Model S
Chevrolet Volt
Vehicles reliant on battery power instead of petroleum, and require charging infrastructure. Small but increasing market share.

Connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs)

Tesla Model S

Operates with minimal or no human interaction, potentially revolutionizing travel from point A to B, and with it the car parking industry.

Expected transition into more autonomous vehicles in the next two to three years, becoming mainstream by 2030.

Robot valets Stanley Robotics Ray (Sytner Group) Offers airports the ability to increase car parking capacity while enhancing the passenger experience. Present in several European airports.

Two major shifts are driving this transformation:

1) Car ownership will likely decline

For many, particularly those in congested urban areas, owning a car is an increasingly unnecessary burden. High costs associated with ownership, paired with congested streets and an abundance of alternative transport modes, has the potential to shift social preferences away from traditional car ownership.

We have already started to see evidence in various cities that fewer trips are being made in cars and that cars are driving fewer miles. The introduction of ride-hailing apps such as Uber, a product that was only introduced in 2011 but had 75 million customers by 2017, will likely put further downward pressure on car ownership.

Today, those who do still own and operate their own vehicle only drive it for an average of 4 percent of the time, a remarkably low rate of utilization.

“Floating transport” or car clubs such as Zipcar and Car2Go are looking to maximize that vehicle utilization rate by treating cars as a shared asset among multiple customers. The impact of shared ownership could be significant, with research suggesting that each shared car may take up to 13 vehicles off the road.

For the consumer, car clubs offer the ability to distribute the costs of car ownership—including insurance, maintenance, and fuel—over many users, lowering the average unit price. This has led to significant growth in car club membership. For example, membership of Car2Go grew 50 percent in 2017 alone. Car2Go now has 3 million members who share a worldwide fleet of 14,000 cars.

2) The rise of autonomous cars

Ownership isn’t the only thing that is changing—the vehicles we are driving are also rapidly evolving.

While industries such as communication and healthcare have seen some high profile step-changes over the past 30 years, the way people use cars is yet to experience a similar technology-enabled step-change.

The electrification and integration of computing power into connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) signifies the start of a new era.

The industry view is that adoption of CAVs will be gradual, with small city level fleets serving the local market from 2020 through 2021. London’s future transport plan states that CAVs will start to play a part in the city’s transport network in the early 2020s, not becoming mainstream until the 2030s.

While the uptake of CAVs may take some time to reach the mass market, the risk of disruption is real.

Technology companies are driving the rapid pace of growth. In Phoenix, Arizona, Google’s Waymo has run an autonomous taxi service trial since 2017. Tesla rolled out version nine of its Autopilot software in June 2018, which “will begin to enable full self-driving features” and is targeting full self-driving capabilities in 2019.

Other more established manufacturers, such as Toyota, Ford, and BMW, have all joined the fray and are investing heavily in electric vehicles and CAVs. However, they are less developed and are expected to bring products to the market in the next two to three years.

A key question is whether the introduction of mass-market CAVs will facilitate more car-sharing and robo-taxi solutions, or whether the decreasing upfront costs combined with low running costs will result in a boon to new car sales (maintaining or growing rates of car ownership).

Furthermore, will the convenience of these technological developments in fact result in an overall increase in demand for car travel and a subsequent modal shift away from public transport?

How to adapt airport parking design to changing demands

Clearly, airports with a sizeable revenue share derived from vehicle usage will need to monitor and potentially adapt to significant shifts within the industry. 

For airports, the reduction in private car ownership along with increased utilization of vehicles on the road could negatively impact the volume of cars needing to park at the airport. This could potentially shift modal share away from long-stay car parking towards short term drop-off facilities, both curbside and in designated spaces within short-term parking near the terminal.

However, a shift in modal share does not necessarily need to result in a loss of revenue, with new fees and charges potentially offsetting reductions in revenue from traditional car park stays.

Here are four ways airport parking operators can stay ahead of these disruptors:

  • Terminal access fees could be charged in exchange for access to passenger entrance points. This would potentially be payable by the fleet operator, who may in turn charge the customer.
  • For car clubs that require designated spaces in high demand areas, airports can enter into concession agreements, similar to those used by rental companies today. Airports in the United States and Europe have already started to accommodate the industry with designated parking bays rented by car clubs.
  • Infrastructure fees could be introduced to cover the cost of providing electric vehicle charging points.
  • In fact, for airports without the space to design and develop large car parking facilities, these developments could actually alleviate capacity constraints and generate new revenue streams that were not previously available.

Changes in automotive technology will not only impact demand-side behavior of customers, but also potentially change the way airports utilize their infrastructure.

Robotic parking is a key example of this, whereby passengers park their car in a bay to be picked up by a robot which then block-parks the vehicle in a remote site. This product aims to boost the passenger experience through increased convenience and potentially reduces the cost of compensation claims faced by traditional valet products as a result of human error.

More critically, robotic parking is expected to achieve a 40 to 60 percent higher space utilization over traditional self-parking facilities, offering a real advantage to capacity constrained airports.

Not only could this help free up their land bank to provide critical infrastructure needed to support passenger growth, but it could also repurpose airport car parking space for value accretive commercial development opportunities such as property. Airport owners must consider whether the replacement activity to parking provides equal or improved risk and return characteristics.

Airports that fail to adapt will lose revenue

The automotive market is on the verge of a major step-change, the effect of which will transform the passenger airport journey. While aviation demand will continue to remain robust, there is greater uncertainty around the impact to airport finances and the long-term future of car parking.

If airports in the U.S. fail to adapt to this revolution, they could risk up to 24 percent (or $1 billion of revenue) within five years.

But it isn’t all bad news. While the market is still nascent in its lifecycle, airport parking lots transitioning to hubs for self-driving vehicles have strong potential. However, these solutions require swift action and need to be customized to the specific circumstances of individual airports.

The incoming wave of technological changes presents a significant risk to airports whose commercial strategy remains stagnant. But an enormous opportunity awaits for airports that are proactively modernizing their approach to trends in driving and vehicles.

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Meet the author
  1. Lewis Burroughs, Manager, Aviation

    Lewis leads our dedicated aviation practice in India and regularly advises airports on longer-term strategies related to traffic, business planning, and transactions.  View bio