The motor car is an easy weapon for the terrorist. Events at Glasgow Airport have shown this. Though their mission failed, and only one casualty, the terrorist himself, stemmed from the incident, it did highlight a growing risk to airports – that of its external barriers.

This is the principal dilemma for airports in the 21st century. Strict internal security has removed the bombers from the aircraft and out of the terminal buildings, and other measures have ensured that airside activities are rigorously controlled, but, terrorists are only interested in spectacular results and the resultant confusion and fear that is produced. Car parks are an obvious target.

In the major holiday periods thousands of passengers travel to airports in cars, putting great pressure on the car park management systems in place.

Therefore, holiday periods are times of particular concern. Fortunately, this is well recognised and various new technological advances have been deployed to combat the threat.


Airport travel in the UK has grown significantly since 1981, from 20 million passengers to 120 million today. Heathrow has in excess of 65 million, Gatwick 30 million, Manchester 20 million, Stansted 17 million, while Birmingham and Glasgow have eight million passengers passing through their doors.

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Airports have increased the number of car parks and between 2003 and today, pre-bookable car parking income has almost doubled at Manchester Airport and many others. The infrastructure required to support such demand needs to be increasingly robust and foolproof.

“A registration number is an important piece of information to deliver a quick and efficient service.”

All car parks need a high level of security. Many have gained the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) accreditation for security through rigorous inspections, procedures and modern technology.

Measures currently in place include automatic bollards, access control, CCTV, automatic gates and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR). Industry experts approximate that there are in excess of 23,000 parking facilities in the UK.

The internet and use of databases have also transformed the industry. Nowadays computers assess traffic flows on an hourly basis. Historically, airport parking was a very simple activity; customers would turn up, take a ticket at entry and then pay for their stay upon their return. The highly competitive nature of the business has seen massive improvements in terms of choice, price and technology.


The technology has now become flexible and durable. At Manchester, pre-booking is done via credit card recognition; the card used for booking also gains entry to the car park on arrival. Other systems, such as ANPR, barcode entry, keypad and code, and seasonal parker passes are in use elsewhere. Within car parks, other technologies are deployed to manage spaces, such as having a sensor near every parking space, and this is linked to a dynamic signage board system at the entry point, for example, ‘Level 4: 15 available spaces’.

Designa operates in this hi-tech market. It provides integrated parking management solutions and was the first company to develop an automatic parking system. Their Parkmaster car park management system has been installed on a worldwide basis. PM Abacus is their new car park management system, which ensures a secure investment through ticket compatibility, offering even greater possibilities for parking management networking.

“Airport travel in the UK has grown significantly since 1981, from 20 million passengers to 120 million today.”

This provides a logical implementation of leading edge technology for networks, system control computers and terminal works. An Ethernet is the basis for the performance network which is carried out via Windows and/or web applications, and MS.SQL operates as the databank server. Parking terminals are controlled by a Linux-based controller. Technology now truly controls car-parking requirements.

This system can accept either magnetic side-strip or centre-strip cards, thus providing a high-capacity appliance. It also supports barcode technology as well as diverse non-contact and contact chip cards.


A car registration number is an important piece of information to deliver a quick and efficient service. CitySync are world leaders in ANPR technologies and include state-of-the-art recognition engines to provide the fastest and best-angle images. It deploys high-definition cameras and covers 5m-wide lanes with IR sensitivity and GigE connectivity.

The company’s equipment also utilises adaptive light control (ALC) to optimise plate exposure, which is useful for traffic-speed reporting. Its assets have been used in markets such as police, customs, homeland security, defence and anti-terrorism site security, and access control solutions. In fact, they are also responsible for congestion charging and bus lane enforcement tasks.


Traveller information is essential to drivers and such material is provided by dynamic message systems (DMS). Daktronics are a leading company in this field and provide parking status and availability, as well as terminal guidance and airline directory. In particular, they are a source of accurate way finding to parking, terminal and rental car facilities. This is another key element of airport car parking security measures.

CitySync can provide security technology in the shape of integrated systems such as under-vehicle scanning systems (UVSS) and weigh-in motion (WIM) systems. IP-addressable technology ensures the operator has full command over each piece of car park equipment and allows for full integration with other IP addressable solutions.

“Traveller information is essential to drivers and such material is provided by dynamic message systems (DMS).”

All of this information needs to be transmitted to control centres and Daktronics have played an important role in developing the device communication standards (NTCIP) that make intelligent transportation systems seamless and more interoperable. Their variable message signs operate using this ITS industry communication standard. Bandwidth is therefore being heavily utilised to increase security requirements.


Hong Kong International airport (Chek Lap Kok) uses various smart parking systems such as ANPR and RFID.

All car park functions and procedures, including all back-office and interfaced third-party equipment (such as systems for traffic guidance and surveillance) may be accessed and managed from the central control room. This centralisation saves costs and reduces reaction times. Throughout the world, technology and security have now become the major factors in airport car parking requirements.

At Newark Liberty Airport, New Jersey, even more technology is applied to parking. In this case the passengers are subjected to a centralised access control system that will use biometric technology to scan fingerprints, retinas, irises and faces. Car parking and security are now inseparable at airports.