What challenges are shaping today’s baggage handling strategies? Top of the list of course is cost control. But airports are also faced with growing passenger numbers and higher peaks. In many regions staff are hard to find and retain for what are often heavy manual tasks. And available space for growth is usually limited in existing terminal buildings. On top of all that is the need to improve sustainability, primarily by reducing energy consumption.
It’s clear that IT will be a key factor in meeting these future challenges. Smart controls and automated handling enable efficiency, speed and reliability of operations to be optimised. That can mean time and cost savings, reduced manual labour requirements, improved working conditions, and higher energy-efficiency.
Most of all, baggage handling is changing to a controlled, demand-driven process, in which bags are managed dynamically and on-demand, as required for flight building. IT is the essential enabler for this ‘intelligent’ baggage handling process.
Simulation identifies system and labour requirements
Current IT developments provide big opportunities to meet the demands outlined above. But it’s not simply a matter of adding intelligent controls to an existing system. The first step is to look at the underlying flows to determine how for example flight make-up operations can most cost-effectively be implemented. At this stage, simulation allows system and labour requirements to be identified, and a range of operational scenarios to be optimised and verified before costly system engineering. That leads to the optimal balance between automated and manual handling and the most economic solution for dealing with peak times. And it answers questions like how to handle more bags, in less time, with fewer baggage handlers and in a limited space.
Different operational scenarios have been tested for both larger and regional airports, and have enabled flight build windows to be shortened significantly. Start times have typically been reduced from 3 to 4 hours before departure to only 1 to 2 hours before. That translates into a big reduction in the number of make-up points, typically by 20% for regional airports and up to 50% for large airports. Required numbers of baggage handlers on the shift are also reduced significantly.
However baggage flows are not stable but are subject to peaks at busy times. Scaling systems and manpower for peak demand is clearly wasteful of resources. By introducing dynamic, on-demand flight make-up peaks can be shaved by buffering incoming bags and calling them forward when resources are available, creating a more constant, controlled flow to the make-up locations. This improves working conditions for baggage handlers, and allows labour costs to be reduced by from 35 to more than 50%.
Working conditions are also greatly improved by introducing make-up on demand in combination with semi-automated loading. Handlers no longer need to load multiple carts or containers, each with 35-40 bags, during simultaneous 15-minute peaks. This reduces risks of injuries and disability caused by heavy, stressful manual handling.
BAGSTORE optimises capacity and efficiency
The on-demand flight make-up process depends on automated, intelligent bag storage. This allows labour requirements to be reduced, make-up windows to be shortened and higher volumes to be handled within existing space constraints. Key aspects of the Vanderlande bag storage concept are high storage density and fast, random access to stored bags. The system allows capacity to be optimised by peak shaving, early bag flows to be handled efficiently, and passenger satisfaction to be increased by longer check in opening times.
Automated loading saves time and labour
More opportunities to save time and labour are provided by (semi-)automated loading of containers for transfer to the aircraft. Different technologies are rapidly gaining ground, and offer cost-effective solutions for regional as well as larger airports. With semi-automated loading technology the baggage handler only has to guide and position the bag, instead of actually lifting and loading it manually.
Improving sustainability: smart control saves energy
IT also plays an important role in optimising sustainability by reducing energy consumption. This is achieved by intelligent system control to adjust system capacity in line with variations in baggage loads. Smart controls – for example with Vanderlande’s VIBES standard controls solution – allow belt speeds to be reduced and complete sections of the system to be switched off automatically as loads fall.
IT essential for future baggage handling
Increased use of automation and intelligent controls in the coming years will continue to lead to big improvements. Manual handling will be almost entirely eliminated in the end-to-end baggage handling process, from remote check-in via dynamic, on demand, semi-automated flight make-up, right through to aircraft loading. That will help airports to maximize their efficiency, cost-effectiveness and service levels, as well as to meet increasing sustainability demands.
For more information please contact
Odeke Lenior, Senior Systems Engineer
Tel. +31 413 495035