Orlando Int'l Enhances Service with New Remote Baggage Screening Facility

Robert Nordstrom
Published in: 

With one of the busiest checked baggage systems in the country, baggage handling is a critical component to overall operations at Orlando International Airport (MCO). During Florida's peak tourism season, outbound volume ratchets up to 54,000 pieces per day, with influential customers including Walt Disney World, Carnival Cruise Lines, Orange County Convention Center and Rosen Shingle Creek Resort contributing to the volume.

"The amount of baggage going through our system is something we are very sensitive to because it can be a stalling point," explains Brigitte Goersch, deputy executive director of administration for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. "Baggage operations is an important part of the travel experience. We're always looking for ways to improve our operations with new technology, concepts and procedures."

The authority's continual improvement strategy yielded significant results in July, when MCO's new $18.4 million remote baggage screening facility began operating. The 69,000-square-foot operation, located 1½ miles from the terminal, is a higher capacity, more automated version of a smaller screening system that operated from the same facility. Last year, work crews doubled the size of the building on the north side and built a large canopy structure to create a new pickup area.



Project: Remote Baggage Screening Facility

Location: Orlando (FL) Int'l Airport

Owner: Greater Orlando Aviation Authority

Cost: $18.4 million

Funding: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ($11.88 million); Passenger Facility Charges ($6.54 million); GOAA Capital Expenditure Funds ($84,000)

Facility Size: 69,000 sq. ft.

System Components: 2,580 linear ft. of conveyors, 3 slope plate make-up devices, 2 outbound lines feeding 2 screening pods, 4 explosives detection machines, 13 power face diverters, 4 tag readers & 7 vertical sorters

Capacity: 1,900 bags/hour

Owner's Authorized Representative: PMA Consultants

Prime Design & Build Contractor: G&T Conveyor Co.

General Construction: Hardin Construction

Baggage Handling System Equipment Mfg: G&T Conveyor Co.

Installation Contractor: Global Conveyor, D&N Electric

Controls & Software: G&T Conveyor Co.

Remote Baggage Handler: Bags Inc.

"Running a baggage system with all the attendant belts and conveyors requires a lot of space in a terminal facility," relates Goersch. "We asked ourselves, ‘What if we could take some of those activities out of the terminal? What if we could process bags remotely?' The cost savings just in terms of infrastructure changes to a terminal building would be huge."

While the airport continues to reap economic and operational benefits from the facility's remote location, the new system contained inside can be monitored and controlled from the main terminal - an industry first, notes designer and builder G&T Conveyor Co.

Poised for Growth

On a peak day, MCO's recently expanded system screens about 8,000 inbound and outbound bags, reports Ron Lewis, the airport authority's deputy executive director of operations.

Ted Dreaver, senior project manager for G&T, describes the system it replaced as "small and labor-intensive." Operators manually fed bags into a single explosives detection system machine, and then manually dispatched them to the aircraft.

In contrast, the new automated system includes high-speed induction and four explosives detection machines (Examiner Series, by L-3). In its current configuration, the facility is capable of handling approximately 1,900 pieces per hour, reports G&T.

From the airport's perspective, the capacity to handle significantly more volume allows for future growth. Currently, eight airlines utilize the facility: Air Tran Airways, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways.

Having a remote screening operation helps carriers plan more efficiently and effectively because "they don't have volumes of bags rushing in on them at the last minute," explains Lewis. "Airlines are able to sort out baggage issues in a timely manner to make sure baggage gets on board. The facility expands our capacity and increases efficiency in baggage handling for the airlines and the airport."

The expanded capability is also aimed at nearby hotels and resorts. "One of the challenges with leisure and hospitality is that travelers have to check out of their rooms by 11 a.m.," explains Goersch. "If your flight doesn't leave until 4 p.m., that means you have to carry your bag around with you. With this service, your bag can be picked up at your room and you can head back out to the theme parks or other attractions in the area."

Bags Inc. handles the pickup and delivery of bags to MCO's remote facility as well as the check-in process. "We act as the agent of the airline, and work on their behalf," explains Craig Mateer, president of Bags Inc. "Badged employees handle bags just as they would if we were operating at an airport terminal."

TSA employees bound by TSA guidelines and protocols perform screening services.

The combination, reasons Mateer, enhances security: "Instead of someone leaving a bag unattended in a hotel closet, they check it with us. It's secured and goes directly to the remote facility. We get the bags early, so we avoid the big rush just before flights depart, which is a great benefit from the TSA's perspective."

Customer cost for the service ranges from $0 to $20 per person. Bags Inc. establishes a pricing structure for hotels and other clients, based on baggage volume and distance from the facility. Its clients then determine what they will charge their customers. Disney Magical Express, for instance, offers the service to its customers free of charge.

Mateer is excited about the potential for expanding services at MCO. "With the new facility up and running, we're planning to launch a home pickup and delivery service within the next six months," he reports. "We can go to the traveler's home, check him or her in and deliver the bags to the facility."

Putting the Pieces in Place

MCO's bustling remote screening facility didn't pop up overnight. The recently expanded version dates back to a 2003 pilot program, when the Rosen Centre Hotel and four airlines (American, Continental, Delta and United) signed on with Bags Inc. Operations moved into the current location, a former Delta cargo facility, in 2005.

In the early days, many travelers were unsure about sending their luggage from a hotel or resort to a remote screening facility. "That was the toughest thing to overcome," recalls Mateer. "But having clients like Walt Disney World helped lend tremendous credibility to the process and product."

Throughout the years, the number of passengers and airlines using the facility grew, and the previous system reached its capacity. In 2010, the airport authority contracted G&T to design and build a larger one.

Laying the new system out in the existing space was "somewhat of a challenge," recalls G&T Software Engineering Manager Lyn Johnson. "We have high-speed induction of bags, which has to be slowed down for screening, then sped up again for the sorting system. The speed changes were a challenge, but we were able to achieve great tracking and actually exceed our rate requirements," he recalls.

"The remote facility interfaces with the terminal," Johnson emphasizes. "In fact, the entire facility can be run from the terminal, which is pretty unique. Being able to see the conveyor system from the terminal and being able to make changes on the fly from a remote location, this is a first of its kind."

Despite the progressive design, the new system passed its TSA integrated site acceptance test on the first try. "That doesn't happen often, because the criteria are becoming more and more stringent," reports Dreaver.

The system is also measuring up from the airport authority's perspective. "The beauty of this new facility," Goersch summarizes, "is we offer the infrastructure, and all of our partners can tailor the service to make it their own."



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