Baggage conveyor at Tulsa Int'l Airport replaced

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Apr. 2--It's one down, one to go on baggage conveyor systems at Tulsa International Airport.

Construction has been completed on a $6.98 million inbound baggage conveyor system, which replaced a 32-year-old system that frequently broke down, airport executives said.

Now, they are in discussions with Transportation Security Administration officials about upgrading the outbound baggage conveyor system, which is only 6 years old.

Grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and TSA are paying 90 percent to 95 percent of the cost of both projects, officials said. The remaining cost is covered by a $3-per-ticket Passenger Facility Charge assessed local travelers.

Jeff Hough, the deputy airports director of engineering and facilities, said airport officials began evaluating the outbound system in May 2008 for potential software and mechanical upgrades.

Officials submitted proposed designs for software and mechanical upgrades to the TSA a year ago. The estimiated cost was $5 million, Hough said.

"Since then, TSA has gone from Program GDS Version 1 to GDS Version 2 to GDS Version 3, and each one has caused us to modify the design and increased the project cost," he said.

"We started out with a project costing $5 million. Version 2 increased the cost to $7.5 million, and the current version looks like it will be $20 million and could be as high as $30 million.

"It's been frustrating."

Neither Hough nor the TSA will discuss specifics of the changing

standards, which officials said are classified as federal security issues.

Tulsa International's two baggage conveyor systems must satisfy multiple constituencies.

The 3,400-foot outbound baggage conveyor system, which carries checked baggage from airline ticket counters through TSA explosives detection systems and out to commercial aircraft, must comply with government standards and airline timetables.

The 2,234-foot inbound system has to meet expectations of passengers, who have little patience with delayed baggage at the end of a flight.

The overhaul of the inbound baggage conveyor system began four years ago.

The first phase, costing $1.17 million, was to replace six baggage carousels -- three each in the east and west baggage claim rooms. The carousel project was completed in April 2007.

The replacement of the inbound baggage conveyor system began in April 2009 and was completed in February, Hough said.

The new system is 33 inches wide, more than the previous system's 30 inches.

"The (previous) system was not designed for the wider, soft-sided bags we have today," said Alexis Higgins, the airport's marketing director. "Our system also is unique, with inclines and turns that other systems don't have."

At many airports, the baggage claim rooms are at the same level as the airport gates. Baggage is off-loaded from aircraft onto conveyors that carry bags on belts that are nearly level.

At Tulsa International, however, bags are off-loaded onto conveyors that carry luggage to the second floor of the terminal, across the east and west pedestrian bridges. Then the conveyor descends to belts that carry the bags upward to the baggage carousels.

Glass walls 6 feet, 6 inches high enclose the conveyor system along the 98-foot length of the pedestrian bridges.

The conveyors of the previous system were enclosed by steel bins along the pedestrian bridges.

"We took the silver bins out and replaced them with the glass walls," which brightened the pedestrian bridges, Higgins said.

Hough noted that the new system has suffered breakdowns.

"Any conveyor system -- it's a mechanical device -- is going to have problems at some point," he said. "Bags will jam, things will break -- but much less often than with the old system.

"A lot of problems don't have to do with the baggage handling system itself. A person has a strap on the bag or a tag that will snag on the conveyor.

"But the old system broke down several times a week."

D.R. Stewart 581-8451

don.stewart@tulsaworld.com

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