Acombination of new facilities, technology, manpower and customer service initiatives ensure that airports probably boast the safest and most secure car parks in the world.
Indeed, with car parking providing some airports with their biggest source of revenue, ensuring that vehicles and their drivers are safe and secure at all times has become a top priority for airport operators across the globe.
Public car parks are typically dark, dreary places that feel unsafe and, rightly or wrongly, have earned a reputation for being associated with crime. Thankfully, the same cannot be said for airport car parks, which are possibly among the safest in the world.
They are also becoming increasingly sophisticated and customer friendly due to a host of customer service initiatives that range from parking guidance systems that help direct motorists to vacant spaces to automated pay stations and improved approach road signage.
And with the industry coming to realise that safe and secure parking can even be a deciding factor for the passenger when decising what gateway to use, airports are expected to continue to enhance their parking facilities for the forseeable future.
Fraser Brown is head of travel services at Heathrow and responsible for all car parking at the airport. This is no small undertaking as the London gateway has 12 facilities providing a total of 8,500 spaces for long, short and business parking and 10 staff car parks offering 15,000 spaces.
Not surprisingly, Brown insists that ensuring security at Heathrow’s car parks is a never-ending, time-consuming task, but he is in no doubt about the importance of getting it right.
“We carry out regular QSM (Quality Service Monitoring) where we ask passengers a series of questions about their experience of the airport. We continually hear back that car park security is very important to customers and is one of the reasons they choose an official airport product as opposed to an off-airport competitor.”
All Heathrow’s car parks are part of the Park Mark accreditation scheme. This was set up by the British Parking Association (BPA) in an attempt to move the industry away from the grittier multi-storeys of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Such a stamp of honour is based on layout, lighting level and CCTV technology.
None of the airport’s car parks are operated directly by BAA staff. Instead, Brown goes to the market and finds an operator than specialises in this area. In their case it is a company called APCOA, the UK’s leading parking management specialists.
According to Brown, not only does a professional outfit provide the best possible safety back-up and support, it also optimises the first and last airport experience in a competitive industry where first impressions last.
“APCOA regularly patrols the car parks and that’s a resource that continues 24/7,” says Brown. “Their people are also continually monitoring from the control rooms, which unlike many city-based car parks are situated on site. This means that in the event of an incident they can respond rapidly rather than putting out a call. Not that this ever really happens. Car parks at Heathrow have an exceptionally minimal incident rate.”
Each car park is equipped with information and help points that are distributed in key areas throughout the car park. This means not on the ticket machines but in the lifts and stairwells, too. Questions or emergency calls go through to the control room.
The final piece of the security jigsaw at Heathrow is the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology. Whilst this is less of a security measure and more related to ease of service for passengers booking their space online, the Metropolitan Police still use ANPR on main roads leading into Heathrow as a means of searching for certain plates associated with known criminals.
“We’re pretty happy with car park security here,” concludes Brown. Las Vegas–McCarran International Airport's parking areas are kept safe for customers, employees and their vehicles thanks to a multilayered approach that involves a touch of the unusual.
Chris Jones, McCarran’s public information administrator, says: “The airport employs approximately a dozen guards who regularly patrol its surface parking areas, continuously cycling through different lots as they go about their shifts. In addition, there are approximately 20 bike patrol officers employed to regularly monitor the airport's two parking garages.”
Nearly all of McCarran's parking employees carry radios that can be used to immediately contact police officers stationed at the airport in the event that anyone should spot a potential problem. This complements the efforts of the dedicated security patrol/bike patrol officers.
A shuttle bus driver, for example, could immediately call the police if they saw something unusual in the course of driving along their normal route.
McCarran's parking areas are also brightly illuminated to promote safety and security, and utilise video cameras that cover specific areas of the airport, including the entrances and exits of its garages and lots.
“In terms of how these efforts impact people's feeling towards the airport, we believe these patrols provide a positive image to McCarran's customers and employees,” says Jones.
“Customers and employees notice the patrols and should find it reassuring to know that these safety measures are in place. In addition, those on patrol also provide an added customer service benefit to McCarran by offering free tyre inflation or dead battery jump services if required.
“If problems were taking place on a frequent or recurring basis, we would undoubtedly have received negative feedback from our users. The general absence of such complaints suggests our efforts have been a success.”
One airport that used to have a serious theft problem, but thankfully doesn’t anymore due to enhanced security, is Brussels Airport, which a decade ago was having at least one car stolen every day.
“That was pretty serious,” admits airport spokesman, Jan Van der Cruysse, who says that the thefts were compounded by cars being broken into on a regular basis.
“The police got together with the airport authorities and the car park operators in order to clamp down heavily on criminals, and installed CCTV on the inside and outside of the parking lot,” explains Van der Cruysse. “This allowed us to film the status of everyone coming in and out, which meant if you stole a car you were on camera. It’s now nearly impossible to leave the car park unless you have the original parking ticket.”
The number of cars stolen from Brussels Airport has changed from one a day to one a year. The police department has a crime team that does nothing but patrol the airport terminal and the parking.
“If I were a thief, I would think that there plenty of better places to hang around with far less risk of being caught,” adds Van der Cruysse. “Criminals have now realised this is not the place to try their luck.”
Stephen Taylor is contracts manager for Liverpool John Lennon Airport in the UK and oversees security, car parking contracts and the centralised control room. Like Heathrow, Liverpool depends on a Park Mark accreditation, something it received days before speaking to Airport World.
“The BPA looks at number of factors,” says Taylor. “For instance, do you have a fence protection system, are the lighting levels okay, how effective are your CCTV cameras?
“We have full coverage of all our car parks so they can always be seen remotely. Public safety is our number one priority and our crime rates are extremely low, which is one of the BPA’s criteria.” Last year there were only two crimes committed across the four car parks and 7,200 bays at Liverpool Airport.
“Our light levels are checked throughout the night,” continues Taylor. “We have a number of high level masts to ensure we have sufficient lighting levels right across the car park, plus we have a fence line protection system with a beam and that runs the length of the car park fence line.
“If that is triggered an alarm goes off in the control room. Control employees can then alert one of three park security guards continually patrolling, to attend the location. On top of that CCTV picks up where the beam has been broken and will turn, pan and zoom to that location.”
Security at airport car parks may not be rocket science, but with such a high density of older vehicles with low security as well as top-of-the-range models, it pays to do the basic things well.