Recent forecasts from the International Air Transport Association predict that passenger numbers will grow by an average of just over 5.25 percent per year between 2012 and 2016 – culminating at around 3.6 billion passengers by the end of the period. With an anticipated 500 million or so new travelers set to fly on domestic routes, and a further 330 million fliers using international services, that all adds up to a lot of additional baggage, too.
Mishandled baggage is already said to cost the industry an estimated $2.9 billion annually; add to this the growing emphasis on efficiency and improved passenger experience and the case for better baggage handling is clear. Not surprisingly, it has formed a compelling driver for a number of developments and innovations – and European airports have been quick to embrace the benefits that these new technologies can bring.
70 MILLION BAGS PROGRAM
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in particular enjoys an enviable reputation for being swift to adopt novel approaches.
Schiphol routinely deals with between 120,000 and 180,000 bags per day – a total of more than 55 million items a year; in the near future, that could rise to 70 million, if the airport’s intentions to expand its market share go according to plan.
With the numbers due to rise – but the physical footprint set to remain the same – there are obvious gains to be made from increasing the operational efficiency of the baggage handling process, and the 70 Million Bags (70MB) program arose in response.
With a budget of around 800 million euro ($1.071 billion), this massive infrastructure investment aims to provide the airport with the necessary capacity, reliability and quality of baggage handling service to support its ambitions to become the focus of increased air traffic, and Europe’s transfer hub of choice.
A major source of Schiphol’s passenger volume comes from transfers, and transfer luggage accounts for around 40 percent of the baggage being handled in any one day – and that poses its own particular problems.
While maintaining the integrity of the chain of connection between passenger and bag is the essence of all baggage handling, the issue becomes orders of magnitude more complex for transfers, when items arriving on one aircraft must be consigned to any number of connecting flights, in limited time. To meet the challenge, the airport opted to go down the route of increased automation, chalking up a number of major “firsts” along the way.
BAGGAGE ON DEMAND
The “baggage on demand” – or “pull” – concept conceived by the airport was implemented by Grenzebach Automation and Vanderlande Industries and takes a batch approach, buffering bags in a central storage area and then using robots to load ramp-carts and containers automatically, as and when required.
Schiphol began using a single robotic loader – the first installation of its kind in the world – in the summer of 2006, subsequently adding a further six in the airport’s new South Hall, which was officially taken into service in early 2011. In October of the same year, the system won the inaugural interTERMINAL innovation award at the inter airport Europe conference and trade show in Munich.
“All systems have been operationally in use since then, they work reliably, without any significant problems, and with excellent operational performance statistics,” says Dr. Joachim Dhner, Grenzebach’s director of airport logistics.
RISE OF THE ROBOTS
Robots are making their mark at Germany’s largest airport, too. In 2013, Grenzebach installed one of its fully automated baggage loading systems at Frankfurt Airport, which processes 24 tons of baggage in each eight-hour shift, with loading staff now acting as system operators, not manual laborers.
Although the basic components are essentially the same as at Schiphol, according to Grenzebach the key to making the robot loading system an individually tailored solution lies in the precise combination used, coupled with the full integration of the system into the conveying infrastructure and IT systems.