(TNS) -- During certain times, such as holidays and summer vacation season, it’s hard to find a parking space at any price at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

But during slower travel times, many spots sit empty.

Now officials at the airport are turning to technology to help make the best possible use of the roughly 31,800 spaces at the Manhattan-size aviation hub.

With more than 17,000 acres of land, DFW Airport is larger than Manhattan in New York City.

The airport board recently approved a $315,093 contract with a Manchester, England, firm known as ADVAM Ltd. to develop a system to help travelers find available parking spaces using a phone application.

That may not sound cutting-edge — Who doesn’t use an app these days? — but what DFW Airport has in mind is ultimately switching to a variable pricing system.

Customers would be able to buy parking in advance of their trip, possibly at a discount, as a way for DFW to fill unused parking spaces.

“Variable pricing would allow us to maybe on weekends provide cheaper parking options when the garages aren’t full, and it just gives us a lot more flexibility to price according to the market,” said Sean Donohue, DFW’s chief executive officer. “A lot of airports, especially in Europe, do it. It would be completely by supply and demand. It would allow people to take advantage of off-peak times. That would be good for us as well because we would fill a slot that would have gone empty anyways.”

Long-term plan

The change won’t happen overnight. Rather, travelers can expect the process to take many months, or possibly a couple of years.

One reason for the long-term approach is to give the airport time to integrate variable pricing with its existing parking system, as well as the region-wide TollTag program already used by many air travelers to pay parking fees electronically.

It’s expected to take awhile to get all those computer software programs talking to each other.

The TollTag technology is owned by the North Texas Tollway Authority.

ADVAM’s initial contract with DFW is for three years, with additional one-year options.

Lots of traffic

About 36,000 motorists pass through DFW’s entry gates on a typical day, including those parking overnight to catch a flight, those dropping off or picking up travelers and others who are just passing through the airport property as part of a commute.

Parking is expected to generate $155 million this year, a $12.6 million increase from 2016, officials said. The airport raised parking rates in September, but on average the costs are still under the industry average, Ken Buchanan, DFW airport’s executive vice president of revenue management, told board members last summer.

The most expensive places to park at DFW are spots near the terminals, which cost $24 per day for self-parking and $31 per day for valet service.

Travelers willing to take a short shuttle ride can also park in one of DFW’s Express lots for $12 (uncovered) or $15 (covered) per day. Or, for the budget conscious, DFW has nearly 4,800 parking spaces in its remote lots, which require a longer shuttle ride for $10 a day.

Travelers also can use one of several off-site parking facilities outside DFW property, including The Parking Spot, which has two lots in Irving near the north and south DFW entrances.

©2017 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.