Does it cost less to park a plane at the airport than your car?

light aircraftFourmy Mario/ABACA/Press Association Images

According to a study in The Independent, it can cost more to leave your car at the airport than it would to leave a light aircraft for the day. Parking charges can easily reach more than £50 a day for a car at some airports, while the cost of parking a plane can be less than £10.

Clearly the cost of parking at the airport is outlandish, but do these figures really stack up?

The study

The study investigated the cost of leaving your car at each of 10 airports for 24 hours, and the cost of leaving a light aircraft at the same airport for the same period of time.

It found the most expensive short stay car parking was at Heathrow, but that it was one of a number of airports where light aircraft are rarely landed.

Liverpool's John Lennon Airport was one of the most expensive to leave your car for 24 hours, at a cost of £39.99. This compared to a £10.75 charge for leaving a light aircraft. Meanwhile, Manchester had the biggest gulf - at £35 for a car and £21 for a light aircraft weighing under two tonnes. Only Luton charged more for the plane than the car.

Outlandish cost

This study does two things. The first is that it quite rightly shows that the cost of parking at airports is outlandish. if you show up and pay you could be in for a horrible surprise.

There are ways of bringing down the cost and this study should nudge us into thinking about them before we travel. The first is to look at all the possibilities at the airport you are going to. At the very least compare short and long term, but also look at different parking companies, including those operating parking away from the airport and running shuttle buses in.

Booking in advance can shave around half the price off parking in airports, and it's worth doing an internet search for special offers from travel companies - which can offer another 10% off.

The weaknesses

However, the other thing the study does is focus in very closely on making the kinds of comparisons that look good in newspapers. If they looked at the total cost of parking the airport (including landing) they would be looking at charges of well over £100 for a light aircraft including runway fees and air traffic control. And let's face it, if they don't land at the airport what other practical method do they have of getting it there? It's going to be a real pain to get to the airport along the motorway.

Likewise the time periods they chose were one of the few where aircraft have an advantage. A spokesman at Bristol Airport said it seemed like a strange comparison. If it was intended to highlight the cost of parking when you go on holiday, why look at the cost of staying in the short-term car park for 24 hours? Of course, if they had compared long-stay with a long-term parking at an airport, the plane would have been much more expensive.

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