San Antonio International Airport officials on Wednesday told city leaders they plan to turn management of vehicle parking operations over to a private company.

In a briefing to City Council, Director of Airports Jesus Saenz said the city-owned airport plans to release in early 2023 a request for proposals to provide parking services to improve both service and revenue.

The San Antonio airport is one of the few medium and large hub airports that manage their own parking operations. Private parking operations tend to have proprietary software systems that provide services such as a reservation system or special offers that improve service and increase revenue.

In 2022, revenue from parking fees are estimated to total almost $27 million, the largest source of non-airline revenue for the airport system. Privatizing parking operations could increase that revenue by 30% to 50%, Saenz said. 

“If we can reduce our [operations and maintenance] costs and increase revenues, then that’s the direction we want to head and then overall provide a better level of service,” Saenz said. 

At present, there are over 9,000 vehicle parking spaces at the San Antonio International Airport. 

The short-term parking garage has 1,238 spaces, some of which are used by a valet service, and the long-term garage has another 5,439 spaces, plus 166 spots for oversized vehicles. The economy surface lots have 2,447 spaces and a shuttle service.

A new parking and ground transportation center is included in the 20-year, $2.5 billion Airport Strategic Plan that was approved by City Council in late 2021. 

Prior to 2020, when the pandemic depressed air travel, parking spaces filled to capacity only during holiday peak travel times. In recent months, the short-term parking garage has reached capacity 60 times and the surface lots twice this spring. 

Both garages are equipped with a parking guidance and surveillance system. On a recent Friday morning, the system’s electronic display showed there were numerous spaces open throughout the garage while there were actually few to none, and where green lights indicated openings, the spots were taken. A spokeswoman said the technology is about 98% accurate and those problems are being worked on.

“Over the last six months, we’ve closed the parking garages 50 times,” Saenz said. “We’re closing garages because we’re out of space. So we’ve got to change our business strategies as we continue to move forward.”

Full parking lots aren’t the only indication that people are traveling again. In August, 812,769 passengers traveled through the San Antonio airport, according to data from the airport. 

That’s an increase of 14% over the same month in the previous year, but also 93% of August 2019 passenger counts, months before the pandemic leveled what was considered record numbers for San Antonio.

In the last 20 to 25 days, passenger numbers have exceeded 2019 counts, Saenz said. And many more people in the region are using the airport. “Our overall geographic radius of users is growing, and we’ve got to be prepared for that as we continue to move forward,” he said.

The rate for daily parking in the short-term garage is $27, or $5 per hour. The cost to park in long-term parking garage is $16 per day or $8 in the economy lot. 

Councilman John Courage (D9) said he was concerned that parking costs could increase. “I know travel isn’t cheap — you’re going to pay,” he said. “But I’m just wondering, are we going to be pricing a lot of people out of being able to use the airport?

Saenz said that when the bids for the proposals come in, he will bring information about pricing to the council for a decision.

The San Antonio International Airport is looking to outsource its parking services.
The San Antonio International Airport is looking to outsource its parking services. Credit: Courtesy / San Antonio International Airport

The request for proposals to transition parking and ground transportation to a private operation requires providing jobs for the 61 current parking workers at a similar compensation level and benefits. 

City staff also will be offered employment in another capacity, it states. “Employees will not lose their job,” said City Manager Erik Walsh.

The request for proposals has not been priced yet and will be flexible in terms of what services are eventually outsourced, Saenz said. 

“We may just do the equipment. We may just look back and say we just want to do the shuttle operation,” he said. “We may come back and say we want to do the entire package.”

A dozen airlines provide service through the San Antonio airport. Almost 41% of August passengers flying to destinations in the United States traveled via Southwest Airlines, while 21% flew on American Airlines. 

AeroMexico accounted for the largest share of international travel with over 28% of all passengers in August.

In November, the San Antonio airport will add another carrier to its lineup with Spirit Airlines, which plans to offer direct flights to Las Vegas and Orlando with connections to other cities in the Spirit network.  

The City Council approved the first major airport contract in June. The work to develop a new Terminal C will be completed by architecture and design firm Corgan with project subcontractors Lake Flato architects of San Antonio and transportation planners Kimley-Horn of North Carolina, and eight others. 

Friday is the deadline for interested consultants to respond to the airport’s request for qualifications for master architect services, a contract which is expected to be awarded in February 2023 and last through the duration of the terminal development program.

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...