Baggage Handling Takes Center Stage at Salt Lake City Int’l

Baggage Handling Takes Center Stage at Salt Lake City Int’l
Jodi Richards
Published in: 

When Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) opened the first phase of its $4.1 billion redevelopment project in mid-September, one of the most critical aspects had been commissioned about six months earlier. It was imperative for the new baggage handling system to be ready to serve passengers on day one, and SLC officials report that it came through in spades.  

“It’s terrific in terms of efficient operations,” says Airports Director Bill Wyatt. “Your bag is going to come at you a little faster if you’re arriving in Salt Lake, and it’s going to get to your plane a little faster if you’re departing. We basically built the airport around this very efficient bag handling system.” 

The new system includes six miles of outbound and inbound conveyor systems for processing checked baggage in the new 908,754-square-foot terminal. John Palmer, SLC’s area manager for the airport redevelopment project, explains that Phase 1 of the subproject includes the new terminal and Concourse A West portions of the baggage handling system, at an investment of $110 million. When Phase 2 is complete, sometime in 2024 or 2025, the total investment will be $170 million. TSA contributed approximately $24 million of the total cost, including the explosives detection system (EDS) equipment and reimbursement to the Salt Lake City Department of Airports for the checked baggage inspection system area. 


Project: New Baggage Handling System

Location: Salt Lake City Int’l Airport

Total Cost: $170 million 

Cost of Phase 1: $110 million 

Timeline: Phase 1 opened Sept. 15, 2020; Phase 2 slated to open in 2024 or 2025

Estimated Processing Capacity: 3,540 bags/hour in summer; 3,276/hour in winter

Component of: $4.1 billion airport-wide redevelopment program 

Architect: HOK

Civil Engineers: HNTB

Electrical Engineers: HOK; Envision Engineering

Mechanical Engineers: HOK; Colvin Engineering

Structural Engineers: HOK; Reaveley Engineers + Associates; Dunn Associates

Concourse B Construction: Austin Commercial-Okland Construction Joint Venture

Construction of Central Terminal, Concourse A, & Other Redevelopment Elements: 
Holder-Big D—A Construction Joint Venture 

Baggage Handling System Design: Vanderlande Industries Inc.

Bar Code/RFID Arrays: SICK

System Controls: Brock Solutions

System Engineer: Vanderlande Industries Inc.

Material Handling Bearings: 
Regal Beloit

Start/Stop Motors: SEW

Conveyors: Vanderlande Industries Inc.

Key Benefits: Faster inbound & outbound processing; significant energy savings anticipated from running motors only when baggage needs to be moved; special systems for skis & other oversize items that make checking & claiming processes easier for passengers; new components eliminate need for manual inspection of most skis

Palmer explains that airport officials were not looking for bleeding edge technology, but they needed a system capable of accommodating larger items like skis, golf clubs and bicycle boxes that travelers often bring through SLC. “One of the goals early on was to make sure that the system could induct and handle [larger items] in an automated process,” he specifies.  

All 11 input points for the new outbound system are capable of accommodating oversize items. In addition, two of the 11 points for putting baggage into the domestic inbound subsystems and one of the three international inbound subsystems can also accommodate large items. 

In a typical year, SLC welcomes 26 million passengers, and many are traveling with large recreational equipment. The new baggage handling system includes 45-inch-wide conveyor belts and large-radius turns to allow large items to move more easily through the checked baggage screening process. The system was also designed to reduce manual handling and inspections by TSA agents, and to decrease the distance passengers need to cart large items through the terminal.

“This is ski country,” Wyatt says. “During a traditional winter, you see skis everywhere, and it really can impede passenger transit around the airport.” 

Now, passengers can induct their skis, golf clubs, bike boxes and other oversize bags at any of SLC’s bag check stations. Oversize pushers ensure that large items are directed to the oversize shoots. This largely eliminates the need for personnel to transport them via carts and therefore reduces the potential for mishandling.

Officials from SLC studied other airports with similar baggage needs for design inspiration—especially other popular ski destinations such as Jackson Hole Airport in Wyoming. “They’re handling skis on a much smaller scale than we do here, but it showed the ability to convey them down the conveyor lines and pass them through the scanning machines, which eliminates a lot of TSA handwork,” explains Noel Spraggins, baggage systems project manager for the airport redevelopment project. 

Before SLC’s redevelopment program, all skis and bicycle boxes had to be hand-screened by TSA. Now, all skis less than 86 inches can pass through the EDS equipment. If there are no alarms, manual inspections are avoided. If there is an alarm, the item is automatically routed to a staffed TSA inspection area. 

According to project officials, SLC is the first U.S. airport to have automated inspection of large checked items. Items more than 50 inches long, 34 inches wide and 30 inches high, such as bicycle boxes, are directed to inspection and then to an exclusive oversize baggage make-up area. 

The TSA checked baggage inspection system includes six CTX-9800 EDS machines (including one spare for backup purposes) and is centrally located on Level 1 of the terminal. All cleared bags are sent for sortation directly under the concourse, a configuration designed to improve delivery time to departing aircraft. Palmer reports that screening capacity is roughly 3,540 bags per hour in the summer and 3,276 per hour in the winter. 

Multiple make-up devices with dual feed lines provide specific sort destinations for each flight or airline. Two oversized run-out conveyor lines with diverters and baggage chutes provide sort destination points for large items. 

The system scans tags on outbound baggage and sends detailed processing messages to airlines. Individual carriers then decide whether to pass along such information to their passengers. Barcode readers and RFID scanning equipment allow a high level of accuracy for tracking baggage throughout the system, Palmer notes. Delta Air Lines utilizes 100% RFID tracking and has the capability to alert passengers about the location of their bags. 

On the claims side, two special carousels deliver skis in open vertical lockers to make it easier for customers to find and retrieve their equipment. One is located in the east baggage claim area, the other in the west area. Each has room for 50 pairs of skis.   

A computerized monitoring and reporting system provides information to operators both from and for inbound and outbound baggage. Additionally, an automated sort control system for the outbound make-up area interacts with the monitoring system to send graphic and text-based information back to the baggage handling system. 

Baggage Takes Priority

Palmer notes that the baggage handling system design was a driving force early in the programming phase of SLC’s redevelopment project. “The airport had an emphasis on making sure the baggage system was taken care of as far as the space in the building and not having to endure any design-arounds,” he explains. 

Because the system is under the terminal and concourse, designers built the structural, mechanical and electrical needs of the entire facility around the baggage handling system. Access to equipment, in terms of future maintenance, was also a key consideration, Palmer adds. 

He explains that it made sense to design the terminal around the baggage handling system to ensure smooth operations, since moving passengers and baggage are key factors for customer satisfaction. 

Personnel at Vanderlande Industries Inc., the firm that designed and installed SLC’s new system, agree wholeheartedly because by their very nature, baggage handling systems twist and turn throughout the entire footprint of the terminal. Account Executive Jonah Thompson notes that it’s counterproductive to ignore the importance of a baggage system early in the design process for a terminal. “If you do, you’d end up designing a building and then trying to put the baggage handling system in and it might not fit,” he cautions. 

At SLC, the project team mapped out the entire $4.1 billion redevelopment project with building information modeling software, which helped coordinate the baggage handling system’s mechanicals with the rest of the facility. “We have the entire system in the model, so we can see if we would have an issue with installation,” explains Spraggins. “That helped save us a lot of time down the road when we actually went into the field to build this.”

When SLC awarded Vanderlande the baggage handling system project in 2015, Concourse B had not received the green light but was part of the airport’s master plan. “So flexibility to expand was very important,” notes Thompson. Once SLC determined it would move forward with the Concourse B portion and Vanderlande won that project as well, the flexible design made it easily expandable, he adds. 

Operational Benefits

Before and after the project was awarded, Vanderlande held numerous workshops with SEW to determine whether its motors were the correct fit for SLC’s new baggage handling system. Investing that time on the front end has paid big dividends, reports Thompson. 

Additionally, Vanderlande worked closely with Brock Solutions to overcome the challenges at the controls level associated with tracking and photo eye placements for processing oversize items through CBIS and sortation. 

Spraggins explains that the airport’s previous baggage system ran continuously and therefore consumed a tremendous amount of power. In contrast, the new system is equipped with permanent magnet motors from SEW that run only when a bag is present. “From an energy efficiency standpoint, we expect to see a lot of savings,” he remarks. 

Thompson predicts that the energy savings will be substantial because permanent magnet motors are more energy efficient than traditional motors, and SLC’s system contains more than 2,000 of them. “Baggage handling systems draw some of the largest—if not the largest—energy footprint in an airport just because of the amount of motors,” he comments. 

While SLC is not the first airport to leverage permanent magnet motors, it is the first large-scale installation of them, notes Thompson.

The “stop/start motors,” combined with numerous other sustainable features throughout the new facility, are expected to earn the airport Gold certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council. 

Beyond stressing energy-efficiency, SLC officials also placed heavy emphasis on meeting or exceeding seismic requirements.    

Customer convenience was another big focus. For example, travelers can check their bags in the airport’s new Gateway facility before they enter the terminal to avoid rolling or carrying heavy luggage or equipment through the facility. “They are able to drop those bags off and become a passenger as quickly as possible,” says Vanderlande Executive Project Manager Doug Alewelt. 

Sharing the Construction Site 

With so much construction happening concurrently, workspace within the terminal was at a premium. Palmer reports that frequent meetings and close coordination among contractors kept projects moving along, and frequent communication with stakeholders such as the airlines and TSA was key. 

“One of the successes of our project is our experienced, integrated team,” he reflects. “We were managing the installation day in and day out as a team.” 

Coordinating construction activity along with the baggage system was an area of focus throughout the project. “It’s also the challenge we spent some of the most time on upfront,” Thompson remarks. 

Alewelt notes that the project team tried to prepare as much as possible for the unknown because anything can happen on a project of this size and nature. Specifically, Vanderlande stored a month’s worth of building materials at a local warehouse in case circumstances beyond their control required the project to pivot. “We had materials available in Salt Lake to switch gears with minimal impact,” says Alewelt. 

TSA screening equipment was installed almost one year before the terminal was scheduled to open. Testing and certification occurred roughly six months before the big day. “That was primarily to ensure that we had a certified baggage system that would screen bags to the TSA’s criteria,” Palmer relates. The system was then retested and recertified at the end of August, in preparation for the Sept. 15 terminal opening. This advance work took the stress out of ensuring the system would be working properly on opening day, Palmer says.

Close coordination with construction teams working on other redevelopment projects as well as contractors associated directly with the baggage project was critical throughout. “All the planning paid off,” Thompson says.

Baggage System Components

            12 inbound claim devices

            3 inbound oversize lines (including 2 specialized ski carousels)

            8 ticket counters (including 2 in the Gateway)

            2 curbside lines

            1 FIS check line

            4 outbound checked bag inspection system feed lines

            2 security feeds

            2 out-of-gauge lines

            6 security shunt lanes

            12 security vertical merge feed lines

            7 alarm lines

            10 clear lines

            2 reinsertion lines

            14 crossover lines

            4 mainlines

            19 make-up units with redundant fee lines

            2 ski run-outs

            6 CTX-9800 EDS machines

            72 high-speed diverters

            23 oversize pushers

            8 vertical sorters

            6 vertical merge devices

            23 scanner arrays

            4 dimensioning arrays

            63 fire and security power doors

            2 ski carousels


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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