Automated Self-Serve Bag Drop Saves Travelers Time & Increases Airline Efficiency at Halifax Int’l

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

Recent enhancements to baggage handling at Halifax Stanfield International Airport (YHZ) are setting new precedents for efficiency in the front of the house and behind the scenes. A fully automated self-service baggage drop is the first of its kind in North America; and associated backroom systems have more than tripled the Nova Scotia airport’s overall handling capacity.


Project: Automated Self-Service Bag Drop & New Baggage Handling System

Location: Halifax (Nova Scotia) Stanfield Int’l Airport

Approx. Cost: $17 million (Canadian)

Associated Terminal Improvements: $45 million (Canadian)

Screening/Sorting System Installation: 13-14 months

System Changeover: Dec. 2013

Kiosk Installation/Check-In Hall Construction: 5-6 months

System Debut: June 2014

Consultant: MMM Group

Architect: McMillan Associates Architects

Construction Manager: PCL Constructors Canada

Baggage Handling Design & Manufacturing: Beumer Group

Conveyors: Glidepath New Zealand

Baggage Handling System Controls: Cofely Services

Baggage Image & Weight Info System Software: Trihedral Engineering

Bag Drop Devices: IBM

Common-Use Bag Drop Application: Brock Solutions

Honors: 2014 Ingenious Award from Information Technology Association of Canada

Of Note: First fully automated self-service bag drop in North America; transition from 5-level to 3-level baggage handling system; addition of explosives detection equipment

Airport authority officials estimate costs for the improvements at $17 million (Canadian).

“Increased operational efficiency was our primary goal,” says Michael Healy, vice president of Infrastructure and Commercial Development.

Previously, YHZ’s peak baggage handling capacity was about 600 bags per hour. Now, it can handle up to 2,000 bags per hour, with complete redundancy at 1,000 bags per hour. Installation of a third piece of screening equipment (a contingency built into the design) would increase the system’s capacity to 3,000 bags per hour, notes Healy. 

Given the system’s inherent new efficiencies, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) has been able to reduce the staff needed to recheck images and perform manual searches at YHZ — a change that lowers operating costs. 

Two-Step Walk-Thru Process

YHZ’s new check-in hall features a row of 31 self-service check-in kiosks that runs the entire length of the facility and 16 self-service bag drops, positioned along the rear wall of the hall. The fully automated system that went online in June 2014 allows travelers to obtain their boarding passes and check bags in a fully automated two-step process. Passengers begin by entering their flight information into a check-in kiosk, which provides them with boarding passes and baggage tags. Next, they walk directly ahead to the bag drops, where they scan their boarding passes and place their luggage on a conveyor.

Although one-step systems that combine boarding pass/bag tag printing and bag drop at a single location are available, YHZ officials chose a two-step system for its speed, size and cost.

“(With the one-step system,) the transaction takes longer,” Healy explains. “While travelers are entering information at the bag drop, the equipment is tied up and lines get longer.” Bag drops for one-step systems are also more expensive and take up more real estate, he adds. “With the two-step system, we can put in numerous kiosks and process passengers more quickly and efficiently. With the number of check-in kiosks and bag drops we’ve deployed, passengers rarely need to wait in line for a free device.”

Under the airport’s old system, check-in typically took about 10 minutes; now it can be completed comfortably in less than two minutes and queues have been virtually eliminated, he reports.

Healy cites check-in for West Jet, one of YHZ’s major airlines, as an example. Previously, queues began forming at 5:30 a.m. With the self-serve system in place, passenger wait times are minimal even during peak hours, he notes.

“The airlines love the new system,” he adds. “By making the process more automated, the airlines are able to deploy their resources more efficiently and redistribute their people to more proactive roles and tasks. The passengers’ experience has been made much smoother, as they are able to do baggage check by themselves with airline reps available if needed.”

The Information Technology Association of Canada recently recognized YHZ’s new baggage drop as one the nation’s most innovative technology achievements of 2014. In particular, the association highlighted the system’s use of information technology to improve internal efficiencies and upgrade travellers’ experience.

The airport’s domestic/international system, which has a capacity of 2,000 bags per hour, went live in December 2013; the U.S. Transborder system, which can accommodate up to 1,000 bags per hour, debuted in June 2014.

The backroom bag sorter systems run on two LS-4000econ sorters, manufactured by Crisplant, a subsidiary of Beumer Group. Both systems are fully compliant with new CATSA standards requiring three-level security screening operations with high-speed explosives detection systems (EDS).

Saving Time & Space

CATSA’s move to align with U.S. screening procedures required YHZ to replace its previous five-level screening systems, which included X-ray and CT scanners, two baggage makeup carousels and a straight conveyor belt located behind the ticket counters.

 The new system uses a tilt-tray conveyor above the hall’s ceiling to transport bags from the self-service bag drops to the screening area, which now includes high-speed EDS. After screening, bags are delivered to make-up carousels in the baggage hall for transport to aircraft.

The U.S. Transborder area, where passengers clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before departing, was also improved. In the old system, travelers waited while their bags underwent security screening before proceeding to the U.S. CBP inspection line. Under the new system, passengers leave their bags at a bag drop and head to processing stations, while the conveyor takes their baggage to the sortation system in the baggage hall to be screened by new CTX screening equipment. An automatic inline system collects baggage image and weight information and transmits it for U.S. CBP agents to review when passengers present themselves for processing.

Removing its old conveyor and screening equipment allowed the airport to regain 9 meters of premium space at the back of its domestic/international check-in hall. Given the long, narrow configuration of the old check-in hall, the additional real estate was a welcome benefit, notes Healy.

Anthony Williams, sales and project manager for Beumer Group, describes the thought process during the planning stage: “The airport didn’t want to expand the building and wanted the baggage system to stay within the constraints of the terminal. This concept allowed for that, which translated into massive savings because they did not have to extend the terminal. It also gave them the opportunity to concentrate on the front of the house and passenger processing.”

Overnight Switch

The airport’s new screening and sorting system was constructed in the back of the house, beyond the view of the travelling public, over a 13- to 14-month period. When installation was completed in December 2013, the team executed a hard cutover to the new system during the middle of the night.

Williams compares constructing YHZ’s new baggage system while keeping its existing one running to performing open-heart surgery on a conscious patient. “You have to work with all your partners to figure out how to keep passenger traffic flowing as the work proceeds,” he explains.

Construction in the public areas of the check-in hall was divided into four blocks and spanned January to June (2014) — ending, as scheduled, in time for YHZ’s peak travel season in July. After the new check-in kiosks and self-service bag drops were installed, the airport opened them up for use one airline at a time.

“It took a lot of cooperation and coordination with the airlines and baggage handlers,” Healy recalls. “We had to develop hardware and software solutions by leveraging internal expertise and engaging outside solution providers.”

Creating the right messaging system was a particular challenge. It not only had to meet new industry standards for passenger processing, but also be “sophisticated and large enough to handle bi-directional interactions with every airline to make sure the new technology actually improved efficiency,” he explains.  

From an aesthetic standpoint, the project included $45 million (Canadian) of terminal improvements to create a brighter, more modern check-in hall. Designers raised the roof of the front hall to create a two-story space and added a full-length glass curtain wall and updated finish materials.

“We have renovated almost the entire terminal,” notes Healy, referring to the series of projects the Halifax International Airport Authority has undertaken since it assumed management of YHZ from Transport Canada in 2000.

To date, the authority has spent approximately $500 million upgrading infrastructure, expanding airside capacity, and expanding and renovating YHZ’s facilities. Key improvements include a new 2,300-space parking facility, updated U.S. pre-clearance facility, new information technology backbone to support a common-use terminal environment — and, now, a self-serve bag drop and three-level handling system.   

TSA Tests Baggage System That Uses Totes

While the Beumer Group’s loop sortation system is helping increase baggage handling capacity at Halifax Stanfield International in Nova Scotia, its tote-based CrisBag® system is being evaluated at TSA’s testing center at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

With preliminary test results indicating “no known deficiencies,” Beumer officials are optimistic about receiving continued favorable reports and subsequent approval for installation of the system at U.S. airports.

The CrisBag® system corals each piece of baggage in an individual tote, similar to those used for carry-on baggage and personal items at passenger screening checkpoints. Because checked bags remain inside individually controlled totes from check-in and early baggage storage through screening and transportation to discharge, CrisBag® can provide 100% tracking and traceability at every stage, note Beumer marketing personnel.

While such systems are familiar to overseas operators, a tote-based system would be new for U.S. airports.

TSA is currently testing the effectiveness of CrisBag® in a variety of real-life conditions and situations at its full-scale Transportation Systems Integration Facility near Washington, D.C. Elements being assessed include tracking, throughput, imaging, sorting and the detection of missing, unknown and oversized bags. Testers are also evaluating how fast the system associates specific bags with their individual totes.

For more information about TSA’s testing center, refer to the July/August 2009 issue of Airport Improvement. Visit YouTube for a video of the CrisBag® system operating at Helsinki Airport in Finland. 



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