Published in the June/July issue of Airport Business Magazine
For most airports, parking is one of their most valuable assets. In addition to being an important source of revenue, airport parking facilities are also essential to the airport’s smooth operation because travelers count on being able to quickly find a parking space near their terminal so they can get to their flights. By providing efficient, user-friendly parking, airports can help assure a smooth transition for travelers from their vehicles to their planes.
The importance of parking as a source of revenue can’t be overstated. In fact, it is generally the largest source of non-airline income for U.S. airports. Parking revenue is so crucial to the ongoing financial well-being of airports that many rely on it to pay for the lion’s share of enhancements and upgrades to services and equipment not associated with parking. Parking revenues are commonly used to help fund terminal improvements, roadway and other infrastructure enhancements, staffing, and even marketing efforts.
As important as parking is to airport operations, it’s surprising how often airport administrators treat it as an afterthought. Many airports take a “build it and forget it” approach to their parking assets. After building new structures, airports administrators often operate them with minimal maintenance, repairing things that wear out or break down, but otherwise paying little attention to maintaining parking facilities. The problem with this approach is that inadequate (or, often, non-existent) maintenance typically causes parking facilities to require major repairs well before the expected life of the garage, with critical systems, technology and infrastructure breaking down prematurely. These unnecessary break-downs often require unplanned repairs that can significantly impact operations and revenue. All too often, airports are forced to renovate or replace unmaintained structures much earlier than planned — and much sooner than capital planning will allow.
Today, however, some airports are pursuing a more proactive approach, entering into five-year on-call relationships with parking maintenance and restoration experts to minimize wear and tear within the structure, minimize repair costs and put off its eventual replacement. In addition to typical maintenance functions such as concrete restoration and equipment repair, these five-year engagements also typically include upgrades designed to minimize deterioration of the facility and equipment breakdowns. The idea isn’t just to fix things when they go wrong, but to prevent things from going wrong in the first place. It also provides an opportunity to develop and maintain a “wish list” for parking improvements, including lighting upgrades through which existing lights are replaced with energy efficient LED lighting systems; painting ceilings to improve visibility, and improve the overall atmosphere within the structure; operational changes, including adapting driving aisles and pedestrian areas; and introducing new technologies and parking products to improve customer service and enhance operations.
In addition to extending the useful life of parking structures, this proactive approach also improves the day-to-day parking experience for travelers. And when maintenance or repairs are necessary, this more strategic approach typically allows the structure to remain operational when the work is being done.
So, how does a five year maintenance and restoration program work? When the program commences, the first step is to evaluate the current performance of parking areas. There are two areas of primary concern to be evaluated: customer service and operations. In evaluating customer service, airport managers and their operators need to determine whether parking facilities are pleasant, intuitive and convenient for drivers. This largely revolves around determining how easy it is for parkers to find a space close to their gate or other destination, and whether drivers can enter and exit the facility quickly and conveniently. The process begins with an internal inventory. Are stairways and floors clean and well-illuminated? Is access and revenue control equipment in good working order? Are exits and entrances congested? Do parkers have to circle parking areas to find an open space? What is the condition of the existing structure?
On the operational side, the five year program should begin with an equipment and systems audit to assure that facilities are operating at optimum efficiency and that equipment is up-to-date and operating well. This also requires an inventory. Is access and payment equipment working properly? Is facility management equipment and its software up-to-date? Are you charging the right rates? Is technology being used to cost effectively control costs? If your facility accepts credit cards for parking payments, is it compliant with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS)?
The answers to the questions posed through the inventories will determine what remedies are required, and permit parking consultants and airport administrators to create longterm schedules for maintaining and improving facilities and equipment.