Matching baggage system investment with airport growth

Matching baggage system investment with airport growth. At what point should a growing airport consider moving away from conveyor based sortation.

As the world’s airports continue to see annual passenger growth of around 10%, the number of airports where larger capacity sortation is required is growing. Smaller airports will normally have a baggage system based around conveyors and make-up using carousels. These systems will typically vary from having some level of automated sortation allowing some sortation to the ability to provide full sortation. This approach to baggage systems has its limitations but the right support and targeted investment can provide surprisingly high capacities. For small airports delaying the move to more complex sortation approaches delivers a number of benefits including:

  • Delaying major capital investment – replacing a whole baggage system can cost several million through to tens of millions. Delaying this investment can provide significant opportunity for airports to invest in other areas first such as passenger experience or other capacity enablers
  • Reduced maintenance burden – conveyors, vertical sorts, carousels are all relatively easy components of a baggage system to maintain, this enables airports to employee smaller more cost effective maintenance teams rather than the larger more qualified teams required for sorters or cart systems
  • Reduced energy costs – On demand running conveyors can be very energy efficient while sorters require to run continuously using much higher levels of energy
  • Reduced manufacturer reliance – due to the reduced complexity both in the physical components and controls software conveyor based systems require far less costly manufacturer support agreements and can be supported easily by third parties

In addition delaying large investment to either sorter or cart based technology at this time will allow the rise of autonomy to be fully understood and then capitalised on when the time is right.

When should an airport move away from conveyor based sortation?

A number of factors play into the answer of this question such as the airports business model, handler and airline community preferences, physical design, and future growth projections will all affect the tipping point to determine the most effective point to make an investment in new sortation technology. This can include:

  • Make up strategy and requirements – Is the airport dominated by low cost single cabin airlines where only one shoot/make up position will be required per flight, or do the airport’s airlines have multiple cabin, status, and destination requirements?
  • Demand curve – Does traffic at the airport peak heavily in a morning or evening period or is demand spread across the operational day?
  • Customer experience strategy – Do flights have a small check-in window or does the airport encourage early check-in?
  • Future growth forecasts – Is the airport’s growth expected to increase rapidly or gradually over time, is it worth investing in capacity quickly to meet demand soon to be realised? How will Ryanair’s changes to baggage policies affect volumes, see our article here.

These factors all should be considered and reviewed, this would also need to be in parallel with understanding the constraints and opportunities within the existing system as capacity may not be able to be achieved with smaller investments in the current system.

How could an airport extend the life and capacity of its conveyor based sortation system?

If an airport believes extending the life of the current baggage system would be desirable and an effective option to meet capacity requirements a full system review would need to be completed and options for expansion identified. The options could include:

  • Increasing baggage routing options within the system – Allowing more routing options for bags travelling through the system to allow all parts of the system to be utilised at all times
  • Removing system constraints – All systems will have the capacity constrained by a single point for example a screening machine, vertical sort, or a conveyors capacity. Removing this constraint with an engineering solution or new technology such as a faster plough will increase capacity
  • Enabling accumulation – Providing options for accumulation after check-in or before a system constraint allows demand to be smoothed thus improving system utilisation as long as bag journey times are not affected to a level that causes missed bags or handling delays

These solutions can also be phased to further delay investment to align with capacity growth, and good design can protect space and integration of sorters or cart based system in the future as well.

Making informed and cost effective decisions on baggage system investment is the benefit of independent and experienced advice in baggage system design.

About Millar Management

Working with airports around the world for over 35 years. We bring together architectural and baggage experience to support airports in meeting the requirements of future growth and legislative changes.

Our services supporting baggage systems include: requirements definition, concept and detailed design, project engineering support, and BIM modelling.