Future-proofing baggage handling systems

Baggage conveyor

Will a baggage handling system continue to deliver high efficiency throughout its expected lifetime?

Baggage conveyorThe most fundamental requirement for any hardware installation is that it be capable of fulfilling the function for which it was purchased. The second is that it continue to do so reliably, efficiently and cost-effectively throughout its expected lifetime and potentially beyond, considering the possibility of necessary upgrades and expansion.

Before starting the process of modernisation the airport must decide which type of system it believes is the best solution to support the airport’s development and objectives,. The airport must know what its required capacity will be in the future and how many bags will have to be handled through the various check points, as well as deciding the level of redundancy the airport requires to support the customer (airlines and passengers). Only through customer satisfaction will the airport succeed.

Designed to last

So what processes should an airport undertake, and what concerns need to be addressed, to ensure that its baggage handling needs will be met well into the future? A primary and highly important step is that airport development planning should comprise an analysis of the overall baggage handling requirements. This should initially determine, based on current and estimated future passenger numbers, performance needs and requirements for baggage volume, capacity at normal and peak operation, and throughput requirements including transfer time. Airports that have a large proportion of transfer passengers will need to pay additional attention to the speed and flexibility of baggage operations over the sometimes long handling distances in and between terminals.

Many airports nowadays offer a wide range of baggage drop-off options, including standard check-in desks, self bag drop and tagging, kerbside check-in and off-airport (downtown) check-in. A well-designed baggage handling system should be able to accommodate all these.

Once these basic requirements have been considered, a choice will have to be made between the various BHS technologies available. The wide range of BHS consultants and qualified BHS system supplier and integrators play an important role in forming the future baggage handling solutions, together with the continuously changing requirements from the regulators. The trend in the market is to develop solutions that are flexible and reliable and open for easy integration of future changes, expansions and new regulations. One system which can cope with this demand is a tote-based system such as the Crisplant CrisBag® which is the best choice where high speed and 100% track-and-trace at every stage of the baggage handling process, from check-in to early baggage storage, in-tote screening and transportation to discharge, is a primary consideration.

How easy is a system to install? Things will progress much faster if the entire system – hardware and software controls – has been thoroughly factory tested and has a modular design that can be built up from small units. Modularity will also tend to make the system more flexible and enable modifications as needed. And once the system is up and running, how much does it cost to operate? The initial cost of one system may be higher than another, but maintenance and operational costs may be much less, giving low-cost, top-quality performance for the next decade and longer. The essential point is the total cost of ownership.

What features of a modern BHS are available to airports for greater operational efficiency and customer service? In addition to having access to such high-tech features as the ability to track their bags in real time, passengers nowadays are much more assured that their bags will arrive at their destination airport at the same time they do. Things are set to become even better in this regard from June 2018, when IATA Resolution 753 comes into force. It aims to reduce the number of lost or delayed pieces of baggage by keeping track of them at every stage of their journey, in particular by maintaining a strict ‘chain of custody’ as bags are handed over during the various phases of travel. This will lead to a better customer experience and reduce the costs involved in tracing, retrieving and delivering missing or delayed bags.

To comply with Resolution 753, and monitor the acquisition and delivery of bags at the three specified events – aircraft loading, arrivals inject and transfers inject – there are a number of elements that should be considered:

  • Arrivals unload/inject. The main challenge here will be to find a solution that fits all airlines’ needs.
  • Transfers inject. Most airport BHSs already have automatic tag reader (ATR) solutions, backed up by a manual encoding station (MES) for when the ATR cannot read a tag, and baggage reconciliation system (BRS) technology. A main aim for the future efficient transfer of baggage is to share data to make it easier to anticipate problems and target them for reduction or elimination.
  • Aircraft loading. This is already supported by ATR and BRS technology. Some airlines scan tags as late in the baggage handling process as when bags are in the hold as bulk baggage, which is the last change of custody for departing baggage.

Features desired by airports

There are a number of features of a good BHS that can have a massively beneficial effect on airport operations. Naturally one of the most basic needs is that the system be fast, to keep throughput high and transfer times to a minimum. This is particularly important for hubs, which compete on offering the shortest transfer time.

Die backs must be avoided in the system, especially at check-in, as passengers really dislike not seeing their bags enter the BHS before they leave the area. This can be avoided by having the right system design that offers a fast and easy baggage flow management solution where the hold baggage screening area can cope with the maximum throughput capacity of the BHS. In general the BHS must be able to balance loads between redundant routes to ensure optimum use of the entire system.

Early bag storage (EBS) is an important feature for many facilities and can be provided mainly by rack-based and line-based systems. It is important that the airport choose the solution that provides the most flexible check-in times for passengers in addition to helping the airport itself manage peak volumes and maybe even enhance the productivity of the ground-handling staff. This can be done using a solution that supports batch loading of baggage by flight and/or destination, and reduces processing peaks by organising and scheduling baggage delivery to baggage make-up.

Operating costs are largely composed of maintenance and power requirements. In the Crisplant CrisBag system, each section is independently controlled and features a unique start/stop function that intelligently powers off immediately when not in use. Tests on real-world installations have shown that each conveyor section is in operation for only about 10% of the total system run-time, reducing total energy consumption by 60% compared with conventional conveyor systems. This low run-time also reduces maintenance hours and minimises the need for replacement parts and maintenance costs.

Will it or won’t it?

So we return to the initial question. Will a baggage handling system continue to deliver high efficiency throughout its expected lifetime? The answer is a definite ‘yes’ – as long as the airport has undertaken a proper planning process with a thorough analysis of its needs and estimated the requirements of the future operation in partnership with a good supplier that can materialise and deliver those distant operational targets for the mutual satisfaction for the airport, the airlines and the passengers.

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