Innovative Baggage Handling Solutions to Meet Current and Future Challenges of U.S. Airports, Airlines and Passengers

Ravi Singh
July-August
2022

The United States has an extensive air transportation network. However, the average age of U.S. airports is about 40 years. Moreover, the baggage handling system (BHS) market is still dominated by legacy traditional sorting technologies like horizontal and vertical diverters, pushers, carousels, etc., which are highly mechanical in nature. This results in high operations and maintenance (O&M) costs and low throughput capacities of around 2,000 bags/hour. Often, these conventional technologies are harsher and result in damaged, delayed and/or missing bags. This not only creates a bad passenger experience, it also causes financial loss and adversely affects the reputation of the associated airline or/and airport. 

Ravi Singh, North American sales manager (Airports) for Leonardo Group, has worked in the aviation sector for more than 15 years. He has extensive experience guiding airport customers in Asian and European markets to adopt next-generation baggage handling technologies that add value to stakeholders by solving problems, bottlenecks and operations/maintenance issues.

Many of these legacy BHS are at the end of their lifecycles. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, several were running at their design capacities and awaiting much-needed upgrades. Historically, traffic at U.S. airports is 12% international passengers and 88% domestic. Because the more significant portion is domestic, this has facilitated a much faster U.S. recovery from the pandemic. In fact, many BHS upgrade projects have resumed. Some of the newer technologies already proven internationally could fulfil the technological gap that exists in the U.S. market with new systems that offer much higher baggage throughput and lower O&M costs.

One of the most promising technologies that can fulfil that gap is innovative cross-belt sortation technology. Installations consist of a continuous loop transport system, with induction lines to load baggage automatically onto the transport system and unloading stations. The transport system includes trains of carts, with onboard cross-belt cells that move perpendicularly to the direction of the carts (hence the name cross-belt) and assist baggage loading and unloading to the assigned destination. Advanced contactless technologies, such as linear motors for propulsion systems, inductive power transmission for on-board power distribution and Wi-Fi data transmission, give cross-belt sortation technology extremely high reliability, sorting capacity up to 8,400 bags/hour (about four times that of conventional conveyor technologies), high operational flexibility and very low noise levels (less than 65 decibels). These targeted technological design choices assure very low and simple O&M, as the equipment is not subjected to mechanical wear and tear, thus providing significant savings to airports and airlines.  All critical components are fully redundant, and the continuous loop of cells is divided into independent “trains” with individual communication and control systems. The failure of a component in one train does not affect the others. Each single cell can be pulled out of service in case of failure, without any impact on the functionality of the train. These intrinsic redundancies provide BHS with the highest reliability in the market. The speed of cross-belt sorters can be adjusted dynamically based on changing passenger/baggage throughput, enabling significant energy savings. That combined with frictionless technologies make it a truly ‘’green” sorter. High performance and compact designs could replace many conveyors/diverters with simpler systems that occupy smaller footprints, thus making them the right fit for brownfield BHS upgrade projects, where space is often heavily constrained.

Baggage handling in the U.S. is still primarily based on carousels for baggage sortation. Usually, bags for multiple flights are loaded into a single carousel, and then need to be manually sorted before they are delivered to their destination flights. The cross-belt sorter is able to unload bags on a wide range of outlet types, including belt conveyors, carousels, chutes and gravity roller conveyors. Passive metal chutes combined with a cross-belt sorter can offer flexible, fully automatic sortation (each chute alternately dedicated to a single flight) with little-to-no maintenance compared to carousels.

While conventional technologies in the U.S. are more prone to bag jams and mis-sortation, the innovative features and precise active control for loading/unloading operations with cross-belt enables optimum and gentle handling for all types of baggage—including fragile items and those with high-friction or sticky surfaces, prominent wheels or irregular shapes. Simply put, gentle and reliable bag handling brings priceless smiles on the faces of passengers.

Lastly, U.S. is a golf-loving country. With conventional systems, large golf bags need to be handled manually. Cross-belt sorters can automate the process, with precise loading and unloading in two consecutive sorter cells, thus making golfers happier.

Cross-belt technology has been adopted by some of the most reputable airports: Hong Kong, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Orly, Frankfurt, Rome-Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Zurich, Genève and Lyon–Saint Exupéry, just to name a few. It’s time now for this well-proven innovative technology to enter the U.S. market and bring value to all of its stakeholders. 

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Fairbanks International Airport Baggage Transport Conveyor Enhanced With Mod Drive™ System


Fairbanks International Airport Baggage Transport Conveyor Enhanced With Mod Drive™ System

Airports face a host of unique industry challenges, such as meeting efficiency regulations and seeking out the best maintenance practices to reduce costs and keep operations flowing. In today’s current economic climate, any potential cost savings can go a long way. 

In 2019, Alaska’s Fairbanks International Airport (FAI) sought to modernize its equipment and operations. They were dissatisfied with the performance of the gearmotors on their baggage transport conveyors and began searching for new suppliers. Regal approached FAI with a solution that could improve equipment performance and simplify maintenance, with the added benefit of energy cost savings: the Hub City® MOD Drive™ system.

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