Electric Vehicles: The New Challenge for Airport Parking

November 20, 2023

Vitaly Vinogradov

The electric vehicle (EV) market has certainly come a long way in just a few short years. What started as a relatively niche industry has quickly ballooned into a $561 billion market, and big players in the automotive industry have gone all-in. According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) – seen by many as an authoritative voice on the global energy sector – more than 10 million EVs were sold in 2022 with expectations that the end of 2023 will see 14 million in sales. 

As EVs become increasingly common on American roads, this has huge implications for the airport parking industry. Already, many major airports have added hundreds of EV charging stations to accommodate these vehicles. But being more EV-friendly isn’t just about adding charging stations. It also requires a vast rethink in how a parking lot is designed from the get-go.

Airports leading the charge

There’s no question that the poster child of EV-friendly airport parking is Los Angeles International (LAX). According to its website, the airport already has 400 EV charging stations across three of its eight parking structures, with plans to increase that number to 1,200. But Atlanta International (ATL), which boasts 275 charging stations throughout its various parking locations, isn’t that far behind. Other major airports that have increased their EV-friendliness include San Francisco International (SFO), Salt Lake City International (SLC), and Seattle International (SEA).

As for why airports have been leading the charge – pun intended – in creating EV-friendly facilities, the simple answer is that it’s an expensive endeavor. Airports have the necessary budget to add charging stations. Moreover, the parking facilities in airports are typically massive, meaning they have the space to dedicate to charging areas.

Beyond cost and space, upgrading a parking facility to accommodate EV vehicles requires extensive planning and significant infrastructure changes. For one, installing charging stations isn’t the only cost factor. Airports must also consider upgrading their electrical grid to ensure their power threshold is never exceeded, no matter how many vehicles are charging at once.

Moreover, airports must also consider the type of charging stations they want to implement. Do you stick to providing standard charging stations that take several hours to charge a vehicle, or do you also provide ultra-fast charging stations that will reduce queue times but temporarily spike electrical usage?

During this process, airports must also balance the need to continue accommodating gas-powered vehicles. While the number of EVs on the road will certainly increase, they’re not going to totally replace gas-powered vehicles any time soon. This is why I predict that parking facility upgrades to handle EVs will happen in stages over time. Airports need to keep a close eye on the EV market to ensure that they can meet the growing needs of EV owners, and that there’s enough space for everyone.

The role of off-site lots

While airports have shown the most commitment to adapting to EVs, off-site airport parking lots have also made efforts in this direction. For example, parking company Wally Park has 120 EV charging stations spread across its LAX, ATL, and SEA locations. The company plans to eventually offer charging stations in all of its garages. Another major off-site airport parking player is MasterPark which has charging stations in one of its four garages in Seattle.

Yet it bears pointing out that the examples above are some of the largest off-site parking companies in the country, meaning they have the budget to make these investments. By contrast, it’s going to be a lot harder for smaller off-site companies to find the necessary funds. There may be help, though in the form of government grants, like the Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Grant Program. While it isn’t entirely clear if off-site parking lots are eligible for this program, there’s good reason to hope that further grants, both state and federal, will become available in the future.

The cost of non-adaptation

Upgrading a parking facility to accommodate EVs is certainly no small feat. Yet the risks of not doing so will only compound over time. This is especially true for off-site lots, which must

compete on price and services against airports with larger budgets. As EVs become more common, off-site lots may find themselves in a losing battle for customers unless they can make some room in their budget for charging station infrastructure upgrades.

At the very least, off-site lots should aim to have two to four charging stations in each of their garages, with plans to roll out more over time. While the number of people looking for EV

parking is still relatively low, that is bound to change with each passing year. Based on what people are looking for now, there’s also a lot of interest from EV owners on how much it will cost to charge their vehicles. That’s definitely something that both on-site and off-site facilities will have to consider: what their fees are, and whether they’re competitive.

Final thoughts

In summary, the EV future is practically here. Failure to accommodate the growing number of EVs could render many parking facilities obsolete and drive customers into the arms of competitors who are primed for the electric future. That’s true for both on-site and off-site lots.

While airports may have an advantage when it comes to budget, that shouldn’t stop off-site lots from investing to their fullest capabilities.

Vitaly Vinogradovite is the CEO of cheapairportparking.org and can be reached at parkon@intelligent-relations.com.