IN-LINE AND RFID

As airports across the country make plans to install in-line baggage screening facilities, many are also grappling with the challenge of how to sort the bags for each airline that will be going to one area. Up until now, most bags went directly from the airline’s ticket counter to the airline’s baggage handling people. With in-line, every airline’s bags will be sent to one location and then need to be sorted to ensure they make it onto the correct aircraft.

It would seem the next logical step would be to develop an airport-wide technology solution to track bags throughout the screening and handling process.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, said to be up to 15 percent more accurate than barcode tags, is being used in a trial for Delta Airlines in partnership with the Transportation Security Administra-tion at Jacksonville International Airport, one of the first to complete an in-line baggage screening system.

Under the trial, all of the Atlanta-bound baggage from JAX is being tagged with RFID. According to Phil Heacock, software/controls sales manager, FKI Logistex, one company involved with the trial, this is about half of the baggage Delta processes on a daily basis.

Heacock explains RFID has been around for more than 30 years. Airports such as San Francisco International have used RFID technology in the past for selectee screening (used to designate high-risk passengers for additional screening) purposes.

Current technology allows RFID to operate on UHF (ultra-high frequncy) and can read at a 10-foot range. Tiny chips, about four or five millimeters in diameter, are mounted on an antenna that is some two or three inches in length. This is then attached to or inserted in a bag tag. Information such as the bag’s destination, time/date stamp, and selectee data can be stored on the tag.

The increased read rate, according to Heacock, means fewer bags will need to be handled manually, saving time and manpower. Incidents of lost or misdirected luggage will also be reduced. Any traveler who has ever lost a bag can appreciate this improvement.

RFID tags also have another security aspect. “We know which bags are on the belt, and we can tell if it’s been screened,” Heacock adds.

The RFID scanning system is comprised of six antennas in a circle, which form a sort of portal that the bags pass through. The tag is scanned and the information is gathered and sent to a sort allocation computer (SAC) and stored in a database.

The other aspect of the hardware is an RF-encoding module which is placed inside a printer. When the tag comes through, it is read, information is written on it, and that information is married to what is already in the database. The database is then updated every time the computer “sees” the bag.

Despite the benefits RFID offers, many airlines are hesitant to make the change from barcodes. One of the most prohibitive factors in going completely to RFID, says Heacock, is the price of the tags. RFID tags, depending on the number purchased, can cost anywhere from 25 to 55 cents, whereas barcode tags are more in the 6 to 8 cent range. However, the scanning equipment for RFID is around $20,000 installed, compared to $75,000 for barcode scanning equipment.

Matrics and SCS Corp. are supplying the RFID chips for the trial, while FKI Logistex is responsible for the integration of the system components.

• SATO America, Inc., a barcode printer, and CCL Label Inc. have entered into an agreement under which CCL Label will manufacture all RFID tags and labels for SATO America and will resell SATO RFID-enabled printers.

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