Automated Vehicles and the Future of US Airports
April 05, 2017

Jim Barbaresso

As airports plan future improvements to enhance the air-travel experience, they may want to look at what is outside their front doors. A new HNTB America THINKS national public opinion survey found more than nine in 10 Americans (93 percent) believe airport terminals could be better connected to their region's ground transportation and transit networks.

In the near future, new options are likely to become available for those connections to airports. As autonomous vehicles advance from concept to reality, they may play an increasingly important role in our shared mobility economy – and eventually function as a form of transit. If driverless cars are implemented on a broad scale, vehicle ownership may wane and rides may be shared, with ride-hailing apps summoning public-use driverless cars to take people to destinations.

Driverless cars could also complement the relationship between airports and transit by connecting the first and last mile to riders' destinations. In a fully autonomous system, they could seamlessly pick up travelers from their homes, drop them off at the airport, then return to public service. While congestion in pickup and drop-off lanes is still likely with autonomous vehicles, proper planning and execution can help traffic flow smoothly.

HNTB's survey, "Airport Terminals-2017," also found more than four in five believe parking (81 percent) and drop-off or pick-up curbs (81 percent) have either stayed the same or gotten worse in the past 10 years. Among those who feel something needs to be improved at airports, respondents highlighted these areas again, with 36 percent feeling drop-off or pick-up curbs need improvement and 33 percent wanting better options for parking.

Ground access to terminals, the flow of automobile traffic, passenger pickup/drop-off and parking are factors that increasingly determine the quality of Americans' air-travel experiences. The interest in transit access to airports is strong, and terminal mobility and amenities, which may one day include driverless car access, are factors affecting satisfaction with the airport experience.

Autonomous vehicles may address some of these deep-rooted issues as they are integrated into the ground transportation options available to access airports and provide a more seamless multimodal experience overall.

About the Survey: HNTB's America THINKS survey, "Airport Terminals-2017," polled a random nationwide sample of 1,054 Americans ages 18+ between December 1-8, 2016.  It was conducted by Kelton Global, which used an e-mail invitation and online survey. Quotas were set to ensure reliable representation of the entire U.S. population ages 18 and over. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent.

Jim Barbaresso is SVP and National Practice Leader, Intelligent Transportation Systems, HNTB Corporation.