Love Field Improves Checked Bag Resolution Area & Invests in RFID Tracking

Love Field Improves Checked Bag Resolution Area & Invests in RFID Tracking
Author: 
Jodi Richards
Published in: 
May-June
2019

In late 2018, Dallas Love Field (DAL) wrapped up an $8.8 million renovation to ease congestion in its Checked Baggage Resolution Area (CBRA). Looking beyond traditional fixes, the project team deployed Mobile Inspection Tables to speed the area’s flow and improve conditions for the TSA personnel who work there. 

The airport also seized the opportunity to install infrastructure for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) throughout its baggage handling system. “We think that’s going to be the next evolution for us,” says Aviation Director Mark Duebner.  

The new RFID infrastructure lays the groundwork for meeting International Air Transport Association Resolution 753, which took effect last June. It states that member airlines must track baggage at four key points: passenger handover to the carrier, loading to the aircraft, delivery to the transfer area, and return to the passenger. Additionally, airlines need to share the tracking information with interline journey partners as needed. 

facts&figures

Project: Baggage Handling System Improvements

Location: Dallas Love Field

Key Components: Renovating Checked Bag Resolution Area; new Mobile Inspection Tables; infrastructure for Radio Frequency Identification technology

Added Capacity: 8 inspection stations,
bringing total to 16

Cost: $8.8 million

Funding: City of Dallas; Southwest Airlines

Project Manager: VTC

Barcode/RFID Scanning Equipment: SICK

Baggage Handling System Mfr/Installer: Jervis B. Webb Co.

Key Successes: Improving flow of baggage handling system; improving work conditions in Checked Bag Resolution Area; reducing lift injuries 

Future Benefit: Improved bag tracking capabilities 

The resolution is designed to reduce global baggage mishandling, increase efficiency in baggage operations and provide a better passenger experience. 

Officials at DAL are counting on RFID to help the cause. “Managing bags around the airport is fairly hectic every day because of the volume of flights we’re doing with the limited amount of space,” Duebner relates.

While the airport has encountered some hesitation from airlines about the investment needed to fully utilize RFID, Duebner says it will be an important customer service enhancement. He emphasizes that the benefits of being able to track a bag’s location throughout the system cannot be overstated—especially for an active facility like DAL.

“Our obligation as an airport is to create infrastructure that helps the airlines be more successful,” Duebner explains. “Our schedule is so tight, we’re doing more than 10 flights per day per gate.”

Such volume and pace are not conducive for baggage handling. For instance, when a plane is reassigned to a different gate, there is a chance the associated bag cart could miss the reassignment. With RFID readers, the airline could more quickly and efficiently determine the appropriate location for bags.

The airport worked with its baggage handling systems supplier, Jervis B. Webb, which contracted SICK to upgrade its existing scanning infrastructure and baggage dimensioning system. The company also added RFID read points throughout the system.

“Love Field is very much preparing for the future,” says Tom Gebler, account director of Airport Systems for SICK. “They’ve laid in the infrastructure to support a much greater use of RFID within the airport.” 

The airport’s ultimate goal is to completely eliminate unidentified bags. “Whenever a bag doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, it really causes a ripple effect,” comments Duebner. 

RFID Benefits

Once the airport’s new system is fully operational, RFID tags will be scanned as bags enter the handing system at curbside check-in and ticket counters. Next, bags will move to what Gebler calls the security feed, where an array reads barcodes and RFID tags, and also checks dimensions to ensure they will fit through the explosives detection system. From there, bags move into the checked bag inspection system, where they are scanned, cleared and pass by outbound scanning points with RFID and barcode readers for sorting to one of three makeup units. At the makeup units, RFID readers will scan the tags again, changing custody from the airport baggage handling system back to the airline, to be loaded on the plane. 

The new system will require much less human involvement. “Mishandling of bags will be reduced substantially by using RFID,” Gebler predicts. He notes that in controlled testing, read rates for RFID tags can exceed 99%, while rates for barcode reading range from 93% to 97%, depending on the technology used. “Quite a few less bags are handled manually in an RFID system than they would be in a traditional barcode system,” he adds.

In addition to its Resolution 753 implications, RFID provides airports and airlines a better sense of baggage handling system performance, Gebler says. Stakeholders can use tracking data to see how effectively bags are processed through the system. “How long it’s taking to process bags is a very important performance metric to understand,” he notes. “If bags are taking a long time in the reconciliation area, that could be a big concern for both the airport and airlines because bags won’t make it to the flight on time.”

If a bag gets mishandled in the process, RFID technology can be used to determine its last read point. For instance, in the unlikely event that a bag not cleared by TSA is loaded onto a flight, personnel can use a portable RFID reader to scan rows of bags to find the correct one. “Otherwise, you have to literally go look at every tag to find the bag, which can be very time consuming,” Gebler adds. 

Ideally, Duebner would like to see RFID in use at the airport by the end of this year. “We’ve done a lot of the pre-work; now it’s just getting down to the nitty-gritty of cost estimates and working with the airlines on the implementation,” he comments.

CBRA Overhaul

In anticipation of the Wright Amendment expiring in October 2014, DAL executed an extensive terminal modernization, which included a new baggage handling system. As anticipated, passenger traffic promptly increased when associated flight restrictions were removed. Volume at DAL jumped from 4.2 million enplanements in 2013 to 4.7 million in 2014 and 7.2 million in 2015. 

Despite the installation of a new baggage handling system, volume increases still caused strain—particularly in the CBRA, which had only eight stations for manual screening. “The number of tables, even when fully staffed, was not sufficient to keep up with the volume,” Duebner recalls. Bags would back up on the line and eventually stop the whole system. 

The CBRA was sometimes a chokepoint, agrees Jeff Akers, project manager with VTC. 

In 2016 and 2017, DAL worked with TSA to audit the baggage handling system to work toward improving its performance. Ultimately, the number of CBRA stations was deemed inadequate for the volume of bags at DAL as a result of changes in TSA design criteria.

After evaluating the system and its throughput, the project team determined that physical expansion with traditional linear conveyors was not a viable option due to space constraints. “It became a big challenge,” Duebner notes. 

“We needed to look outside the box in terms of how we were going to move bags and expand throughput in that area,” recalls Akers.  

Working closely with contracting and design partners is key to any project, but collaboration was especially important for the CBRA project, Duebner reflects. “Using mobile tables was a solution brought to us by our partners,” he offers as an example. “You have to keep an open mind and challenge everyone you’re working with to seek new solutions.” 

The team suffered a difficult blow when Paul Dugas, project manager for SICK, died just before crews finished their work. “Everybody in the baggage handling system industry knew Paul, and Paul knew everybody,” Akers reflects. “I was always amazed by how responsive and in tune with every job he was, especially considering how many projects he was involved in. Paul was truly one of a kind.”

To provide continuity, Gebler and Karl Willner, who manages SICK’s Logistics Automation project managers, stepped in for the remainder of the project. “Paul was truly loved and respected throughout the company and industry, and his passing was a huge loss,” says Gebler. “The amount of condolence emails and calls from customers was pretty overwhelming.”

Funding & Installation 

Having provided funds for the airport’s initial baggage handling system project, TSA denied its request for funding to update the system. Instead, DAL worked with its largest airline tenant, Southwest, to help cover the cost of adding eight more inspection stations to the CBRA, bringing the overall total to 16. 

“Like a lot of other airports, the issue we have is that the baggage handling system was designed after the footprint of the airport terminal had been established,” Duebner explains. “Our screening activities essentially happen in the basement of the building, which is hard to expand.” 

The airport’s baggage handling system designer, VTC, validated an innovative solution offered by the airport’s baggage handling system manufacturer/installer, Jervis B. Webb. As a result, the airport invested in a new system that uses automated guided vehicles rather than a conveyor system to move bags. The conveyor system carries bags identified for manual screening into the CBRA and drops each onto a mobile inspection table. The mobile tables then drive themselves to an inspection station, where a TSA officer performs the necessary screening. Once a bag is cleared, the officer pushes a button, and the mobile table takes the bag back for reinsertion onto a conveyor for cleared baggage.

Duebner reports that the first 10 mobile inspection tables went in fairly easily. “It’s a really simple system,” he comments. Removing a wall adjacent to the screening area created the space needed to add the new stations. Once the new stations were in operation, the original stations were taken out of service. 

The phased project also added RFID read points at the ticket counter conveyors, curbside check-in conveyors, TSA baggage inspection station and baggage makeup units, where bags wait to be loaded onto carts for transport to aircraft. 

 “The big benefit we’ve seen is a significantly more pleasant environment for the agents,” notes Duebner. The new system reduces noise and heat in the CBRA room, and TSA personnel no longer have to lift or drag bags on/off conveyor belts for screening. Such transfers are now automated, which has already reduced lift injuries. Mobile inspection tables also increase efficiency by allowing agents to quickly transition from one bag to another. “As soon as agents are done screening one bag, they can turn around and work on a bag that is already positioned at the next station,” Duebner explains. 

If there is an issue with any one of the mobile tables, it can be taken out of service without impacting the rest of the system. 

Looking ahead, Duebner says that RFID and automated vehicles could have additional applications for automated bag storage and retrieval. At airports like DAL with a limited makeup area, bags that are checked early take up valuable space. A system using RFID and mobile inspection tables could potentially deliver such bags to another area and then reinsert them into the system at a more appropriate time. But that would require another round of design, procurement and execution. 

For now, DAL is enjoying the improved pace and work conditions of its new CBRA. “We consider the project to be a big success in a lot of ways,” Duebner concludes.  

Coming soon: RFID bag tracking. 

Subcategory: 
Baggage

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