Aalborg Airport’s innovative RFID baggage handling system

Aalborg Airport's RFID tags are the first in any airport worldwide that can store sortation information thanks to their 512-bit memory.

Aalborg Airport's RFID tags are the first in any airport worldwide that can store sortation information thanks to their 512-bit memory.

The RFID baggage handling system that is now in place at Aalborg Airport is the first of its kind in any airport across the world. While the concept of RFID tagging is not new in itself, Aalborg boasts the first RFID tags that can store sortation information thanks to their 512-bit memory.

“This is the first airport worldwide where you can find these tags,” Svendsen explained. “The benefit is first of all for the airline as when you have a read rate close to 100%, the airlines have far fewer cases of wrongly sorted baggage. Needless to say, this then benefits the passenger as well. The system is also great for us at the airport because other airlines will see that this system can save them money and this makes them take a closer look at our airport.”

Increased read rate

The RFID system, which has been developed and implemented by Lyngsoe Systems – the company that has previously implemented RFID on Baggage systems at Lisbon and Milan Malpensa airports – is an alternative to the traditional barcode tagging and as the RFID reader doesn’t require the tag to be in its line of sight, this significantly increases the read rate.

Svendsen: "The first thing we wanted to use the RFID for was the baggage handling and we saw that it had a much higher read rate than barcodes and that's what convinced us."

Svendsen: "The first thing we wanted to use the RFID for was the baggage handling and we saw that it had a much higher read rate than barcodes and that's what convinced us."

All information stored within the tag is also automatically passed on to the screening machine, eliminating the need for a separate system. However, a barcode tag is also printed for each baggage item to ensure that it can still be read at airports which only use the traditional barcode technology.

The decision to upgrade the baggage handling facilities at Aalborg Airport was taken on the back of unprecedented passenger growth. Having handled more than 1.1 million passengers in 2009, the first six months of this year saw traffic increase by +26.5%, while in July, this was followed by a year-on-year monthly rise of +22.9%. Over the last two years, the number of weekly departures has also doubled.

Svendsen said: “We have experienced heavy growth of around 20% per year for the last few years so we were looking for a new type of sorting system. We looked at barcode technology first but then we were approached by Lyngsoe about RFID.
“The first thing we wanted to use the RFID for was the baggage handling and we saw that it had a much higher read rate than barcodes and that’s what convinced us.”

Lyngsoe Systems’ RFID expertise

An overwhelming increase in travellers made it necessary for Aalborg Airport to grow the baggage handling capacity. Until recently, the baggage sortation was handled manually, but in order to accommodate the increase in routes, it became clear that it needed to be automated. Aalborg Airport had two choices, either barcode or RFID technology.

Aalborg Airport chose RFID because of the immediate advantages, but also because this technological platform is able to offer entirely new passenger services. Furthermore, RFID is supported by IATA.

Lyngsoe Systems has developed and implemented RFID on Baggage in other airports, but Aalborg Airport is the first airport in the world to have the sortation information stored in the RFID tag. Up till now, the RFID tag has only been able to store a unique number (license plate) due to memory capacity. With a larger memory capacity, all sortation information can now follow the bag and need not be forwarded in a separate system from airline booking to airport sortation system. Consequently, the airport is more in control of its sortation system and not dependent on external message providers.

Important relationship

Having smoothed over the inevitable teething problems, Svendsen outlined that the baggage handling system has performed “very well” since being introduced. With passenger growth showing no signs of easing, this has been factored in to the design of the system and “the facilities are in place to cater for a doubling in capacity over the next four to five years.”

Svendsen: "We have experienced heavy growth of around 20% per year for the last few years so we were looking for a new type of sorting system."

Svendsen: "We have experienced heavy growth of around 20% per year for the last few years so we were looking for a new type of sorting system."

Furthermore, thanks to the versatility of RFID technology, plans are also being explored to extend its use beyond baggage sortation. “In the long-term we can also use it for lost and found baggage,” Svendsen explained. “For example, if Copenhagen Airport was to adopt RFID, we would be able to create an automatic service. If a bag hadn’t been loaded on to the aircraft, we would be able to meet the passenger upon arrival at the airport to inform them as soon as they arrive that they will need to go to the desk to report that their bag was not onboard.”

With these future developments in mind, Svendsen also highlighted the importance of the relationship with Lyngsoe Systems, which is headquartered within relatively close proximity to Aalborg Airport.

He said: “This relationship has been a very important factor. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if we hadn’t had Lyngsoe so close, I don’t think we could have managed this.

“They have used their skill and ability in this project and as the company is based about 60km from Aalborg Airport, this presented a great opportunity for both parties.”

While the RFID-based baggage handling systems that have been employed at a handful of airports around the world – ranging from Hong Kong to Las Vegas McCarran – have proved to be very successful, one question has caused much debate and proved to be something of an obstacle to its widespread adoption: Who should bear the cost of the initial implementation?

At Aalborg Airport, however, Svendsen explained that this was never an issue. “The main cost for this was covered by the airport but the main benefit is for the airline,” he said. “This is one of the main discussion points when you consider adopting RFID tagging but, for us, we take responsibility and ownership of all passengers who use Aalborg Airport.”

Damarel’s SwiftBag Application

The idea of being able to save time by checking-in before you reach the airport and dropping your baggage at a ‘fast bag drop’ counter is appealing for passenger and airline alike. Handled correctly, the bag drop desk can deliver huge benefits across the board, reducing queuing times for passengers, trimming staffing levels and freeing up terminal space.

The key to a well-run bag drop is to make sure that the agent’s focus is kept firmly on accepting baggage, and that other irregular operations do not affect the speed and efficiency of this process.

Damarel’s new SwiftBag application provides a much-needed middle ground, delivering a cost-effective alternative that makes use of the standard airline and CUTE equipment already in use.

It helps the agent process passengers and their bags as quickly as possible and the intuitive touch-screen enabled interface provides a simple baggage registration screen that takes only seconds to become familiar with.

With support for document scanners built in, SwiftBag can also ensure you capture all the necessary details for down line security checks, at what is often the first point of contact with the passenger.

Fully integrated with L-DCS, Damarel’s popular Local Departure Control System for low cost carriers, SwiftBag can also support Web Services interfaces for traditional airline hosts, delivering a powerful all-in-one solution for your fast bag drop operation.

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