New Year Brings Hope of Final BHS Commissioning at Nashville Int'l

Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

Nashville International Airport's New Year's resolution is to have its $32 million integrated baggage handling and security screening system vetted and approved for use in early 2011.

As the Central Tennessee airport approached the holiday season, director of construction Christine Vitt reported that the inline explosives detection system was in the final stages of commission testing by the Transportation Security Administration. The baggage handling system (BHS) consists of explosives detection system equipment supported by the standard conveyor components provided by automated airport baggage specialist Glidepath.

"Up until now, we've had a very smooth project, and we're hoping for a smooth ending," says Viit, of the project that began in November 2008. "To implement an inline baggage project is challenging. But we have had a very good team in place that has helped us work through the challenges."

Staffing, coordination and education about issues unique to a baggage handling system have required extra time, she notes, especially when compared to more conventional projects. "We have been able to stay on top of all of those things, and I think that is what has gotten us to the point we are at now," she adds.

Facts & Figures

Project: Integrated Baggage Handling & Screening System

Location: Nashville Int'l Airport

Owner/Operator: Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority

Cost: $32 million

TSA Contribution: $20 million

General Contractor: Messer Construction

Architect of Record: Gresham, Smith and Partners

Baggage Handling Specialist: Glidepath

Components: Explosives detection system equipment supported by standard conveyor

New Flow

Led by local prime contractor Messer Construction, the design/build project was initiated to improve the overall experience of Nashville International's customers. The explosive detection machines in the ticketing lobby will eventually go away, allowing the airport to move airline ticket counters back. This, in turn, will provide more room for queuing and pedestrian traffic in the ticket lobby. In addition, passengers will be able to approach the ticket counter much like they did prior to 9/11, placing checked bags on a conveyor adjacent to the ticket counter. Baggage will be screened beneath the counter, outside passengers' view, by the Glidepath baggage handling system designed below the airport by architects from Gresham, Smith and Partners.

"The system will definitely help us in other ways," Vitt says, "and it will certainly help with the customers not having to wait in numerous lines to get processed."

Doug Downey, operations vice president for Messer Construction, reports that the on-time, on-budget project has run smoothly. As expected, integrating a new system with a legacy system proved to be challenging.

"We have to give credit to the airport, the local TSA and the design and construction team, all of whom really approached the job in a team effort," says Downey. "All of the stakeholders, including the airlines, worked together to figure out the best way to get things resolved, and that is why we are on schedule."

Infusing the New

According to Vitt, the project touches almost every space beneath the terminal, with two explosive detection system matrixes installed in two distinct portions - the main terminal and C Concourse.

"It was a huge impact to space, so that was one of the biggest challenges, as well as converting existing baggage handling systems that the airlines had into a new, state-of-the-art system," Vitt explains. "We had to flip-flop the airlines from one location to another while retrofitting the space they were in. So it had a huge impact on all of the airlines and all of their existing spaces."

Gresham, Smith and Partners principal Tim Hudson concurs that coordinating the existing infrastructure and maintaining airport operations increased the project's degree of difficulty.

"When you are talking about installing a brand-new checked-baggage inspection system inside an existing airport, it is always a challenge," relates Hudson. "We had to go into the airport facility at the apron level and create a pathway through all of the existing airline baggage make-up areas to make room for the baggage system."

Another challenge, notes Hudson, was making the existing legacy conveyor system "talk" to the new system. But through a cooperative team approach, these challenges were overcome, he adds.

Complexity Drives Efficiency

Greg Wheeler, vice president of operations for Glidepath, reports that the project entailed integrating 10 tie-in points of the old conveyor to the new conveyor while keeping the airport up and running.

Previously, baggage traveled without encumbrance from the ticket counter to bag makeup after being screened in the lobby, Wheeler explains. The new system weaves all airlines' baggage through a network of 1.4 miles of new conveyor, 300 miles of wire and cable, 700 motors and a low-friction, high-efficiency belt that conserves electricity.

"Now, with the inline system, we have a controlled feed of all baggage," says Wheeler. "Bags used to flow down there at 100 miles per hour, and now there is the equivalent of a traffic light right in the middle of that travel. With that traffic light comes a certain amount of ownership. What we all have to understand is that this equipment and machinery we put in is there for America's safety, and we all have to take responsibility for that system."

From the airport's perspective, Vitt says the end result is a much more efficient system - one that's receiving positive comments from the airlines.

"We have met all of our goals up to now, and the only caveat to that is the successful testing," Vitt says. "We hope that both systems will be up and certified by the end of January 2011."


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