Southwest fuels takeoff of income from parking

Posted: June 29, 2005

More applause, please, for Southwest Airlines.

The throng of passengers drawn to the low-fare carrier at Philadelphia International Airport also has fueled an increase in parking revenue.

Today, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which oversees airport parking, plans to announce that it will give the city a check for $27 million - $12 million more than the authority anticipated when it crunched budget figures last year.

That means each of the airport's 17,000 spots generated, on average, $1,588 in parking revenue in the 2005 fiscal year, which ends Friday.

The revenue is a major source of income for the airport, along with money from concessions, landing fees, and space rented in the terminals. However, none of the unanticipated $12 million can relieve the city's current financial pains, since federal rules require that money earned at airports be spent at airports.

"Whatever revenues we get, all of that helps to reduce costs for doing business for the airline, and that in turn saves travelers money," airport spokeswoman Phyllis Van Istendal said.

The arrival of Southwest last year spurred record highs in airport activity, with 28.5 million passengers using the airport in 2004. Similarly, parking revenue soared, doubling what it was in 2004.

"Southwest has been an enormous generator of traffic," said Joe Egan, executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority. The carrier "by itself turned this whole process around."

In an interview yesterday, Egan also credited better management at the authority, including a smaller staff, as well as overall efficiencies. For instance, the airport no longer uses a private contractor, Central Parking Corp., to run the airport day to day, saving $425,000 in an annual management fee.

The authority also launched radio advertisements last year to lure airport users away from long-term and cheaper parking sites off airport property, he said.

Managing the airport's parking operations has grown more controversial in recent years. The Street administration has, unsuccessfully, proposed seizing the reins from the authority, which until 2002 was largely run by Democratic appointees. At that time, Republicans took over the Parking Authority board.

Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.

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