Upgraded Baggage System Takes Over Commuter Apron in Pittsburgh

Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

With the implementation of the North Terminal Inline EDS Project, Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) can now claim the largest conveyor system in the country with 100% in-line bag screening.

Beginning in mid-March, passenger check-in became faster and easier via a new system in the north end of the airport that automates the process of screening checked baggage for explosives. The Allegheny County Airport Authority (ACAA) installed the new in-line Explosive Detection System (EDS) into the automated baggage system used by US Airways as part of an $18 million project. Passengers no longer carry their checked luggage to an explosive detection system for screening; the new configuration enables US Airways personnel to tag bags and place them on a belt behind the ticket counter.

Facts & Figures

Project: North Terminal Inline EDS Project

Location: Pittsburgh International Airport

Cost: $18 million

Total Building Size: 22,400 sq. ft.

Clear Bag Resolution Area Room: 1,800 sq. ft.

Approximate Conveyor Length: 1/2 mile

Building Construction/System Installation: 18 months

Lead Consultant: PBS&J

Baggage Handling System: G&T Conveyor

BHS Controls & Installation: G&T Conveyor

Conveyor Specialist: BNP Associates, Inc.

Construction Manager: SAI Consulting Engineers

Explosive Detection Systems: GE CTX 9000, Reveal

"We worked closely with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to have lobby-based CTX machines put in place to meet that deadline, and then as the funding and technology proceeded, we completed an in-line system at the south end of the building," says Bradley D. Penrod, ACAA executive director and CEO. "Now the north end of the building is complete with this project."

Penrod says the project was a function of checked baggage, deadlines required by the TSA and a desire to deliver better customer service all in one package.

Pittsburgh's in-line screening system is staffed by TSA screeners and housed in an expandable new building located at the north end of the former E-gates terminal. A $3.5 million grant was received from TSA early in the project; the remainder of the $18 million for the project came from Passenger Facility Charges.

"From an efficiency perspective, it will allow the TSA to deploy staff more effectively and move bags that much quicker by taking advantage of the high-speed conveyor system," Penrod notes. "There will be efficiencies in both bag movement and deployment of TSA resources."

New Accommodations

The North Terminal Inline EDS Project included requirements to build a 21,000-square-foot building immediately adjacent to the largest conveyor system in the country.

The new, stand-alone building was constructed atop a former commuter apron that became all but extinct when regional jet activity floundered after US Airways pulled its hub out of Pittsburgh. The strategically placed baggage handling building ties into both the landside building and the airside building via the existing baggage tunnel.

"All of the US Airways checked baggage goes through this tunnel from the landside building to the airside building," explains Brian Harsh, PBS&J's Aviation Services project manager. "In the middle of that tunnel is an opening into what was the commuter baggage building where conveyors were in use for connecting flights. What we did was intercept the baggage tunnel and took both conveyors up into this new building through the existing holes."

The beauty of the project, says Harsh, was that the infrastructure in place required no new holes in the tunnel. Bags flow into the new building via two separate conveyor lines that link to four GE CTX 9000 explosive detection systems. Capacity is available for two more machines.

The entire building is 22,400 square feet, which includes an 1,800-square-foot Clear Bag Resolution Area room. This room will be staffed with TSA personnel to further screen bags identified as suspect by the CTX 9000 units. Once cleared in this room, the bags are placed on the outgoing conveyor for the trip to the Airside Terminal.


Components of the new North Terminal baggage handling system - including the specific EDS machines - largely mirror components in the three-year-old South Terminal's.

"Commonality is critical," Penrod notes.

The preference for commonality extends to the project contractors as well. G&T Conveyor emerged as the chosen baggage handling system vendor just as BAE Systems, now part of G&T, provided the original North Terminal system in the early 1990s. "The airport was interested in keeping the same level of expertise and confidence," says Herb Desmond, senior project manager at G&T.

The G&T project includes 250 drives, diverters, merges and queues. Approximately 2,800 linear feet of conveyor was installed and mechanical/electrical controls, software and graphics were integrated to interface with the existing system. The in-line system passed all first run requirements of initial testing. The end result, Desmond says, will dramatically streamline the baggage process, better enabling Pittsburgh International to provide its passengers with safe and efficient service.

"We cut the existing system in half, spread it out a little and put the new one in the middle," Desmond summarizes. "There were several one-night cutovers in a two-week period, where we would disconnect an existing outbound system and switch everything over to one side of the new system."

Along with the building construction, the on-time, on-budget project was designed, engineered, manufactured, installed and tested in 18 months.

"At no time did we disrupt airline operations," Desmond stresses. "Our work took place after operations shut down for the night; the next morning the system was up and running ready for business."


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