The airport rental car business is changing—and to meet customer expectations, savvy airports are building to reflect that change as well.
“The rental car industry at airports is getting consolidated,” said Eric Wildt, senior project manager for Turner Construction Company. “That’s where the business model’s running, because it creates operational efficiencies for the rental car operators and it elevates the level of customer service provided to the renting public.”
San Antonio International Airport (SAT) is one airport making the change, and the city of San Antonio has selected Turner Construction to help it realize its vision of a new consolidated car rental (CONRAC) facility to maximize convenience and customer satisfaction.
A new vision on an existing site
“The way that the current rental operations are scattered around the airport, they’re not co-located in any one place and some of them are very difficult to find,” Wildt explains. “If you’re pushing the envelope on catching a flight and trying to find where you’re supposed to return your vehicle, it can be very stressful.”
To address this issue, SAT looked to the site of its short term parking garage. After demolishing the existing short term garage, Turner Construction is rebuilding the structure as a brand new seven-level multi-use CONRAC solution. The first two levels will serve as public parking to replace the former short term parking garage—on top of this, levels three through seven will be rental car operations. Adjacent to this, a quick turnaround area (QTA) is being built to supply the rental car services with support from fueling stations to maintenance and car wash bays to get rental cars back in shape for their next adventures.
The new CONRAC structure is much more than the parking garage it is replacing. “We’ve got some really cool features,” said Wildt. One of these signature features is a sky bridge that will connect directly from the airport terminals to the CONRAC customer service center.
“There will be a sky bridge you can walk across after you get your baggage, which takes you over the drive lanes to level 4 and into this large expansive lobby that will have all the rental brands in front of you,” said Wildt. “If you have a vehicle reserved, you check in and go down to your vehicle. If you don’t, you’ve got all of the brands right there available to you that you can rent from. It creates instant and easy access for the renting public—you don’t have to get on a shuttle for 10-20 minutes, it’s a direct connect.”
Wildt adds that this centralized location is of benefit to departing travelers as well. “On the other side, when you’re coming back to return your vehicle, you don’t have to return it somewhere offsite and then take a shuttle to the airport to catch your flight,” he said. “The rental car center is right there in the center, so I can drop off my car, walk across the sky bridge and go to my gate.”
While the sky bridge to Level 4 creates convenience for consumers, the adjacent QTA creates convenience for the rental car services with amenities like 54 fueling points and direct connections of its own.
“The actual service levels are 2, 3 and 4, and each of those floors is connected via a combination sky bridge and circulation helix to the rental car center,” said Wildt. “This is set up for operational efficiency: every functional level where you’re renting vehicles is connected via direct drive lane over to this QTA, so they don’t have to take the cars all the way down to the ground to some facility offsite to have them cleaned and refueled. It’s a very simple and direct connection that makes things very efficient for the operators.”
Balancing progress with safety
Construction projects are regularly complex, but that complexity compounds when it’s a 1.6 million square foot project underway in the middle of a busy transportation hub populated by thousands of travelers and employees passing through every day.
“It’s smack dab in the middle of airport proper, so logistically it’s a very tight project,” said Wildt. “On the west boundary of our site we have a long term parking garage that has to stay up and operational, and on the east side are the drive lanes for the terminals that have to stay up and operational.”
Turner Construction has risen to the challenge of tackling this project while ensuring that pedestrian and traffic flow through SAT is able to function smoothly and without major interruptions.
“Site management—the interface with the public—is a big deal,” said Wildt. Turner Construction has employed several strategies to maximize site safety, from working at night when traffic is lower, to building a 600-foot covered walkway for pedestrians to safely bypass the construction zone on their way from the long-term parking garage to the airport terminal. The construction company is also working closely with the FAA for construction and equipment approval that maintains full visibility for the control tower, ensuring safety both on the ground and in the air.
Paving the way for further growth
With construction well on its way, Turner Construction estimates that the first two levels will be open for business by April of 2017, followed with the launch of rental car operations by March 2018. Once open, the benefits will be clear.
“The customer service aspect that’s being enhanced in this program is huge,” said Wildt. “It’s really going to elevate the airport’s ability to offer that customer service to the passengers, and really the satisfaction that everyone flying through that airport is going to experience.”
But the completion of this project will not be the end of growth for SAT—rather, it’s just the beginning of a more expansive plan for the airport. SAT sees further expansion in the future, with even a new terminal in the works down the line, and the smarter transportation and parking options put into play with the new CONRAC facility allow it to effectively support that growth.
“It ties into the master plan to grow San Antonio as an airport over the next many years,” said Wildt. “This asset that they’re creating gives them the ability to continue that vision of growth and expansion in a very smart way.”