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Name: Jessica Perez
School name: Shepherd University

Analyze the effects of driverless cars on airport parking. What are the benefits of using airport parking and what are the cons?

I’m happy to help my friends and family whenever they need a hand. The only favor I routinely try to weasel my way out of? Driving them to the airport. I don’t get out of it that often—but with driverless cars now on the roads, I may have found my permanent excuse. The driverless car industry (which has only recently become a proper industry, after years of speculation and experimentation) can lend a hand in helping solve this decades-old problem. Whether these vehicles are owned by fliers or by the airports themselves, there are benefits to be found by embracing this new technology.

The simplest way driverless cars can cut down on needless trips to the airport and aid the parking process is that driverless cars can park more tightly together than traditional cars. While driverless cars still need aisles to enter and exist parking spaces, those spaces can be much closer together and narrower because there’s no need for a human to squeeze out the door. While our parking spots now are between 8 and 9 feet wide to accommodate for humans opening the doors, self-driving cars can fit into spots as narrow as 6.5 feet, which means large parking lots can fit 25 percent more cars1. Tightly-packed cars are good news for airport parking lots and all involved. Airports can fit more cars into their lots, and fliers—who would just be dropped off before sending their car to park—won’t have to deal with the anxiety-inducing process of finding a parking spot. Airports could also build more parking lots further from the terminals because no human passenger will have to travel between the two places.

However, that fix only works if fliers choose to drive themselves and have their own self-driving vehicles. Therefore, a more realistic way airports can implement driverless cars is to integrate them into their existing taxi services. The cars would be dispatched from the airport (or another storage facility), pick up a flier, and bring him or her to the airport. This offers the same benefits as any other taxi service— it cuts down on the need for parking and offers convenience for fliers—but cuts out the possibility of human error and the need to pay wages. There is a way to implement these plans without compromising customer comfort. Because the tech is still new and the concept is so radical, the public is having a hard time trusting driverless cars. The solution is to give customers an elective amount of power once they get in the car. When there is no passenger, the car can drive and park all on its own; when the car is carrying a passenger, that passenger may sit in the driver’s seat and intervene if and when they feel it is necessary. The Society of Automotive Engineers have established levels of automation, ranging from no automation (level 0) to total automation (level 5)2. Once level 5 vehicles are widely available, allowing for total or partial driver intervention at that (and every) level will inspire confidence in the product and will make customer feel safer. When customers feel comfortable, they’ll be more willing to use the airportprovided service.

There are dangers and challenges to consider, of course. Driverless cars are still relatively new and are therefore unsupported in most metropolitan areas. Wide-spread application of these ideas will be limited to how successfully the technology can be integrated. Fliers from rural areas where driverless cars can’t access won’t benefit either way (only level 5 cars, which have yet to be fully developed, work outside of established highways2). And, as mentioned above, airport drop-offs can be hectic places that require a human being’s judgement to navigate. Until the process is fully automated, it might be wiser to keep driverless cars running between the entrance to drop-off zones and parking lots, on designated routes, so there is less room for error.

Still, these obstacles are not impassible. Each of these challenges can be overcome with time and proper design. There’s no reason that airports should shy away from advances in driverless cars. We’ve made incredible advances in all other areas of the flight process, from checking in to security to on-boarding and the flight itself. Getting to the airport is the next step that we should modernize. While I’m happy to drive my friends to catch their flights and I’m hoping that we’ll eventually just teleport everywhere like in Star Trek, I think that implementing driverless vehicles in airport parking lots is a worthwhile investment of time, energy and resources.


  • 1. “How Self-Driving Cars Will Impact Parking Solutions”., August 2016.
  • 2. “Path to Autonomy: Self-Driving Car Levels 0 to 5 Explained”., 3 October 2017