Baggage Tracking Solution Provides Operational and Financial Benefits. For airlines and airports end-to-end bag tracking is critical, and as passenger traffic grows, the likelihood of misdirected bags grows as well. “The more passengers we have traveling, the more we need to manage the baggage process to make it more efficient

Baggage tracking is an essential part of this process,” says John Carr, product owner, ADB SAFEGATE Airport Systems.

A bag that is misdirected has a financial impact on airline and airport operations. “When bags don’t travel with the passenger, there’s a cost associated with repatriating that bag to the passenger’s final destination,” Carr relates. While that price has dropped over the years, it can still be upwards of $150 per bag, he notes.

Of course, any increase in operating costs is unwelcomed, but the real cost comes from customer dissatisfaction, Carr says. “It’s a very competitive market — passengers often have a choice which airport they use, so it’s all about how you keep your passenger satisfied.”

International Air Transport Association (IATA) Resolution 753 relates to end-to-end baggage tracking and states that a baggage handler must track baggage at four key points in the baggage journey:
-passenger handover to airline
-loading to the aircraft
-delivery to the transfer area
-return to the passenger

Additionally, in order to be compliant with IATA 753, member airlines must be able to share that information with interline journey partners. “The resolution takes the best procedures airlines have been using for a while and defines them in one agreed document,” Carr explains.

Thanks to airline investments in technology that allows them to track bags across an entire journey, the total number of bags mishandled each year fell 47% from 46.9 million in 2007 to 24.8 million in 2018. The global airline industry has also almost halved the cost of mishandled bags from $4.2 billion in 2007 to $2.4 billion last year. Research shows that when bags are being tracked when loaded onto aircraft, the rate of improvement ranges between 38% and 66%, which can be attributed to the level of operating processes and systems currently in place.

As airline partners, airports play an important role in meeting baggage handling requirements. “Airports have a vested interest in making sure they’re providing the right tools for their customers,” Carr says.

AS-TRAK from ADB SAFEGATE is a cost-effective baggage reconciliation and management (BRS) solution for compliance with these industry standards, relates Carr. “The features we have in AS-TRAK help assist with compliance with IATA Resolution 753,” he says.

AS-TRAK is designed to address baggage and security related issues, including providing a baggage handler with the ability to locate bags marked for offload, identify the last location of a missing bag and the ability to scan gate checked bags as they are introduced into the system.
The AS-TRAK solution is web-based for flexible delivery with desktop, tablet and rugged devices. Its simple, clear design improves operational efficiency, reduces training costs and can be scaled to meet an entire airport’s needs or the needs of one airline.

AS-TRAK can be deployed via Cloud and reduces much of the hardware that would traditionally be required for this type of application, Carr explains. Mobile devices are used to scan barcodes on the bag tags and that information is used to satisfy the reconciliation piece of the bag tracking.

“In terms of hardware investment for a customer, it can be quite minimal, depending on the needs of the airport,” he says.

Carr notes that each customer receives a solution tailored to its specific requirements. “We engage the customer in terms of what they need, see the actual areas where they want the product to be used and then from that we give them our best advice in terms of how the solution would work for them,” he explains.

AS-TRAK can deliver the optimum level of information and performance for airlines to track, reconcile and accurately repatriate bags, Carr notes. For example, one ADB SAFEGATE client, London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR), has an on-premise solution with two large core server rooms and 900 scanners all operating off of a wireless network provided by the airport. “That solution works really well for them and gives them the reliability they need,” relates Carr.

At an operation as large as Heathrow, in the order of 5,000 users across nearly a dozen ground handlers load some 40 million bags per year using more than 900 scanners and 300 work stations. ADB SAFEGATE has a dedicated team at the airport, managing the system and providing technical support and hardware maintenance as needed. Carr explains that baggage loaders, supervisors, ramp and transfer baggage operators use mobile scanner software to share data to the AS-TRAK BRS for 81 airlines.

For one of its airline clients, Carr explains, the system is hosted from an ADB SAFEGATE regional data center with provision to each station provided via 3g/4g and Wide Area Network. ADB SAFEGATE Airport Systems supplied, installed, commissioned and supported the BRS at each of the airline’s 18 locations; with 105 scanners and 30 workstations.

According to Carr, the system is designed and implemented with high availability and includes automatic operational failover in the unlikely event of a problem. “The solution is very scalable in terms of what a customer actually needs,” he says.

The solution can be integrated with the Airport Operational Database (AODB), and that information is fed throughout the airport operational systems. The AODB provides AS-TRAK with all flight times, gates/stand, bag makeup/sorting locations. From there, the Departure Control System (DCS) sends messages to AS-TRAK advising of the bag tag number, bag class, passenger name, flight details, whether the bag can be loaded and any additional security and segregation requirements such as a high-profile passenger needing extra checks.

The next step of the process is screening and sorting. This takes the bag from check-in to the bag make-up point. The Baggage Handling System (BHS) sends messages detailing the bag’s current location, its destination and whether the bag has been security screened.

In the reconciliation process, AS-TRAK provides detailed, real-time information with clear Yes/No responses. If the bag has successfully cleared security and can be loaded in the selected container, a Yes response will be displayed on the scanner. If the bag is not cleared, the scanner will emit a continuous tone and display the reasons onscreen and the alert must be acknowledged before the next action can take place on the scanner.

“If there’s an issue with a bag, the DCS advises us of what that problem is,” Carr says. Bag alerts quickly identify when a loaded bag must be offloaded, and bag warnings indicate when a previously unknown or unauthorized bag is allowed to load.  

If a bag is mishandled, the dedicated reflighting module can be deployed separately or with AS-TRAK. The system suggests the best routing for the bag, confirms eligibility and will update DCS and WorldTracer (global tracking service for lost or delayed baggage). It then provides support for both full and overlay retagging options.

The AS-TRAK system notifies staff whether the arrival bags are onward transfers or terminating. Transfer bags are reinserted into the sortation system to be diverted back into baggage make-up, while terminating bags are placed back on the reclaim belt for passenger collection.

AS-TRAK also provides baggage handlers with valuable reporting features, including industry standard reports such as Hold Baggage Manifest Document, Flight Manifest Summary and Passenger/Bag/ULD manifests.

Baggage tracking and reconciliation data can be analyzed to provide performance information for the airline and airport. “There is quite a lot of analytical work that can be done to help with staffing levels within the loading/unloading areas, if there’s a particular problem flight to collect connecting bags from or load onto, etc.,” Carr notes. Through API technology (Application Program Interface), we can allow this comprehensive data to be queried by external systems or be used by our customers to develop their own applications, For example, the API could be used to create a ‘where is my bag’ mobile app allowing passengers to track their own baggage during their flight and know exactly which carousel to collect it from upon arrival.

As a company, ADB SAFEGATE Airport Systems is an active contributor within the International Air Transport Association (IATA), with a number of representatives serving on a variety of working groups to help formulate industry policy and share best practices, he notes. “We have been providing baggage security, reducing miss-handling and making aircraft turn-arounds more efficient for more than 27 years,” Carr states. “Our knowledge in this area is extensive.”

In June, the IATA 75th Annual General Meeting (AGM) resolved to support the global deployment of radio frequency identification (RFID) for baggage tracking. The AGM also called for the implementation of modern baggage messaging standards to more accurately track passengers’ baggage in real time across key points in the journey.

According to IATA, RFID read rates are 99.98% accurate and modern messaging standards will enable airlines to take appropriate action if mishandling occurs. Combined, IATA states RFID and modern messaging standards should reduce the mishandling rate by 25%.

The resolution commits airlines to transition to bar-coded bags with RFID inlays and use RFID data alerts to enact processes with airports and ground handlers that prevent potential mishandlings. While it does not specify a timeline, IATA adds that it is expected that global adoption of RFID could be achieved within four years.

“This is something I get asked a lot about especially from our Chinese market where government mandates could soon enforce RFID usage for airports with over 10 million passenger traffic,” Carr says.

“Put simply, RFID is another way to get real time bag tracking. If an airport has RFID readers installed in the baggage handling systems, loading conveyor belts and arrival carousels, they can use RFID chips to track bags automatically without human intervention. But for most airports, this could be an extremely disruptive and costly exercise,” Carr explains. Mobile scanners with AS-TRAK can provide the same real-time bag tracking picture as RFID right now, without the additional cost.”

“However, RFID is the future,” Carr states. “RFID chips can store a lot of data and we are currently exploring how this data can be used to further improve baggage reconciliation with plans to introduce RFID technology within our own products next year.”

As a provider of integrated solutions used on the airfield, in the tower and at the gates,
ADB SAFEGATE, with its acquisition of Airport Systems, offers a total airport management (airside and landside) portfolio of automated and integrated solutions to help airports and airlines manage the flow of aircraft, passengers and baggage in a streamlined way.

Author: Jodi Richards, 1511 Evergreen Drive, Janesville, WI 53546; 608-290-2019; jodirichards@charter.net