Millions of baggage items will pass through an airport on any one day. Given that the airport has to deal with baggage as part of its service, how does it then handle this operation in an efficient and cost-effective way?
A baggage handling system is an integral feature of an airport’s logistics. An optimised and streamlined baggage handling system will create greater passenger satisfaction as well as increased operational efficiency.
There are numerous technologies and system designs behind an effective baggage handling system that can really help an airport achieve operational excellence and efficiency in handling its baggage volumes.
A crucial component of the BHS is its security screening of the baggage that passes through it.
There has been an increase in security screening standards and aviation safety regulations require airports to upgrade their systems to meet these standards. Of course, aviation safety regulations can be a costly obligation that airports must adhere to. Equally, though, they can present a unique chance for airports to optimise their baggage handling system (BHS) and screening infrastructure if the design is right.
There are a number of ways the benefits of these regulations can outweigh the costs.
Airports comply with high security levels when conforming to the regulations. New screening technology is more advanced and able to screen baggage faster and more efficiently. Its handling rates are greater than the traditional x-ray machines, for example.
If the BHS is designed well, fewer screening units are needed, entailing less manual operation.
In order to optimise the updated security screening system, it must be designed to operate with the highest efficiency while being cost effective. It needs to be able to balance loads between redundant routes and to minimise baggage delays. Overall, its implementation should see a reduction of both CAPEX and OPEX.
A well-thought system will make for an uncomplicated BHS design. San Francisco Airport's Terminal 1, for example, consolidated five independent baggage handling systems and 15 baggage screening machines into one centralised solution servicing multiple airlines.
Airports are often forced to cope with too little space in their baggage makeup areas. Much can be taken from the warehouse practice of batch building which can save on this precious space, while giving operators more control over the baggage flow. Batch building does not require a complete transformation of the entire baggage hall and can be implemented in phases.
The principle of batch building comes from warehouse practices, where goods are stored and retrieved in batches. The practice saves both space and resources.
Batch building is easily applied to the baggage process through the early baggage storage (EBS) systems. EBS systems can be turned into multi-purposed storage to cater for the airport's specific operational needs to drive more efficiency in the makeup process.
Batches of baggage are automatically pre-sorted in the EBS storage according to pre-determined factors (baggage type, departure slots and so on). Operators then pull batches when the control system alerts them a batch is ready for loading.
The benefits of batch building include:
Airports with EBS systems in place can fairly easily implement batch building. It really depends on the airport’s operations, its existing makeup and working out how to reconfigure it. It could be as simple as adding further conveyor lanes and adding further racks, replacing carousels with conveyor lanes or changing some software.
The fact that many flights depart at the same peak times puts pressure on the confined spaces of baggage makeup areas. This means airports have to work out how to make their storage systems more efficient.
Many airports have a readily available asset in their early baggage storage (EBS) systems. In combination with batch building, airports can turn these systems into multi-use storage systems. These systems will significantly boost the baggage handling processes and improve the use of valuable airport building space.
Batch building means an operator pulls batches of bags when alerted that a batch is ready for loading.
This means a few things: the operator is handling all bags for one departure at one time; bags are not randomly ‘pushed’ through the system; and one chute does not need to be open to service every destination for two hours.
Rather than storing luggage in storage lanes or dynamic loops, the more efficient system is proving to be racking systems. They consume less physical space and work well with end-to-end tote-based systems using individual carriers.
Norway’s Bergen Airport has introduced rack-based storage, using BEUMER Group’s CrisStore® system. It includes a racking configured for the airport's capacity, a flexible pull system and speed loading. Single bags or batches can be tracked and retrieved for specific flights and bags can be checked-in a full day before a flight.
Bergen’s storage system can be expanded to cope with increasing capacities due to its modular design and integrates easily with its current systems.
Airports that transform their standard storage systems into multi-purpose storage systems can optimise their baggage hall floor space and prevent the unnecessary circulation of bags.
They can even use the storage space for other purposes such as retail merchandise and Reclaim on Demand bags.
While the industry has made great strides in reducing the rates of mishandled bags, there’s room for improvement of internal baggage handling processes to reduce the numbers.
Unreadable bag tags can often be at the root of delayed baggage. By using video coding technology, however, airports are able to improve their encoding process, reducing the bottlenecks and slower manual processes.
Airports can put video coding technology into effect simply and quickly.
Unreadable bag tags make up around 2-3 percent of overall tags. Conventional baggage handling systems deal with these unreadables by redirecting them to manual operators, who must enter missing necessary information. The bags must then be reintroduced onto the BHS, which impacts on capacity, workflow and resources.
Minimising these unreadable bag tags makes good business sense. Video coding technology can take a BHS system a long way in achieving this.
Video coding technology is a remote encoding software that allows bag source information to be encoded while the bag remains in motion within the main BHS. It relies on cameras installed in the BHS and sends images to an operator who can encode the missing information of an unreadable bag tag from any location.
Encoding bag tags with video coding can be very advantageous for an airport’s baggage handling operation performance.
It can mean bags no longer need to be redirected to a manual operator, minimising both the physical work for operators and bottlenecks during peak times.
The technology also saves the processing time of no-read tags, which is especially invaluable for transfer baggage. On top of that, it's cost-effective, saving short-shipment costs by reducing the no-read tag rate and boosting passenger satisfaction.
Data analytics has become an essential component of most business operations and baggage handling systems are no different. A data-driven approach to baggage handling systems has huge potential for operational expenditure (OPEX) savings by providing greater visibility into the operations.
If analysed to reveal trends and better understand the baggage handling process at an airport, this data can be costs saving.
The sensors and devices in BHS equipment can provide much data, for example, to help predict maintenance issues. Data analytics can also help refine operational decisions or even facilitate the automatic execution of decisions. Real-time data can also be used to assist management in its forecasting, planning and reporting functions, such as staff forecasts based on passenger data.
One of the big advantages of using data analytics in BHS is that it can help reduce baggage handling OPEX. For example, operations can be optimised by analysing recirculation rates. Maintenance costs can also be reduced through predictive maintenance practices.
Data analytics can uncover trends to reveal ineffectual operational or planning practices. Airports can then adjust their operational and planning approaches accordingly. Data analytics also enable oversight in real time so that operators can forecast and optimise every aspect of the baggage handling operations (such as baggage volumes, peak season numbers and maintenance requirements).
With data analytics, airports stand to gain detailed and accurate assessments of prior production to be able to make better future predictions.
These above mentioned ways of reducing costs and improving operational efficiency in BHS are all facilitated by the modern individual carrier system (ICS).
The ICS is a form of baggage handling system that can really enhance an airport’s baggage handling operations, giving it the comfort of being both security tight and flexible for future needs.
The hallmark of the ICS-based baggage handling system is its uniform carriers to convey baggage. In an ICS, each bag is loaded individually into a carrier and stays within the carrier, from check in to the final destination. Carriers come in the form of carts or totes (often referred to as trays).
A tote system is best suited to airports with one or more terminals. It’s appropriate for medium and high capacity sorting where medium-speed carriage and a limited number of discharges are needed.
A cart system fits well with small and midsize terminals and systems, including inter-terminal connections. It’s best suited to high speed transport and lower capacity with a high sortation complexity. It handles numerous discharges on long distances well.
ICS technology is fundamental for airports because its individual carriers can ensure complete track and trace and unobstructed security screening required by aviation standards. ICS technology is faster than conventional belt systems, able to cope with swift transfer connection times, energy efficient and experiences fewer system jams.
The modular design of ICS is also important for airports, as it gives airports the possibility to modify their systems to new changes that international regulations and standards, or COVID-19, may demand.
As ICS-based systems are fully automated, they will interface smoothly with Reclaim on Demand which is an automated system designed to make the whereabouts of bags transparent to passengers upon their arrival through in-app messaging.