Philadelphia airport parking could be privatized within a year

After almost 50 years under Philadelphia Parking Authority control, the airport parking concession could soon be run by a private company. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

After almost 50 years under Philadelphia Parking Authority control, the airport parking concession could soon be run by a private company. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia International Airport is taking steps to privatize its operation, a move that would eliminate 100 jobs currently held by the Philadelphia Parking Authority while potentially creating new employment opportunities at the city-owned plane station.

The city’s Department of Aviation paid off more than $54 million in PPA bonds last week, giving the airport control over parking facilities run by the state-governed agency since the 1970s. Paying off the loan was the first step toward a competitive bid process to run the garages and a larger modernization project, said James Tyrell, the airport’s chief revenue officer.

Under the airport’s agreement with the state-governed PPA, the airport could not close an economy parking lot it wants to shut down in order to expand freight handling.

The agreement “did not allow us to function the way we needed to function,” said Tyrell.

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The airport is also installing a new high-tech system to make the parking experience easier, replacing one Tyrell called obsolete. He said the agreement with the PPA not only held back needed modernizations at the international airport but also “flew in the face of FAA and DOT standards and requirements.”

The airport’s plan doesn’t bode well for the parking authority, which brings in about $80 million annually from the airport parking operation and faces financial pressure of its own after two years of pandemic-related losses.

Scott Petri heads up the agency and said the airport’s plan to seek a new parking operator came as a surprise.

“We’ve had a long business relationship with the Philadelphia Airport Authority, and we think we’ve performed extremely well,” Petri said. “I’m sure it’s not service-related. I can only assume it has to do with costs.”

Tyrell said the airport has many unanswered questions about how PPA operates at their facility, and bringing in an outside vendor offers an opportunity for more profit.

“Our arrangement with the parking authority was one where we didn’t control the bottom line,” he said. “We had zero control over a lot of different business criteria employed to operate this system.”

Tyrell said the airport couldn’t dictate the number of employees who were hired or the number of hours those employees worked.

Petri defended the agency’s loyalty to workers and unionized labor.

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“I think it’s important to protect the jobs that we have there,” said Petri. I’m hoping the City Council will ensure that the labor rates are competitive so that we would have an opportunity to keep the work.”

Petri said the average worker makes about $21 an hour with a pension and benefit package. He plans to lobby City Council to make sure that any private contractor would have to bid to match the worker’s current deal.

“City Council has demonstrated with some of the bills they passed at the airport relating to wages that they have that commitment,” Petri said. “We would ask that anything be real full-time work, not part-time work where you get no benefits and you’re getting $10 or $15 an hour.”

Tyrell said the new contract will allow the airport to strike a new deal that could bring in more profits and make sure the workforce is more diverse.

The airport’s request for proposals should be made public soon. Petri said the PPA is going to bid on the contract, and if the specifications are for good-paying jobs with benefits and pensions as his employees currently enjoy, they will win.

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