Luggage handling at Hong Kong airport

Motorola Solutions Australia Pty Ltd
Friday, 28 August, 2009

A multi-year contract to supply Hong Kong international airport with up to 70 million RFID labels will see speedier and more reliable luggage handling for many of the 48 million passengers that use the airport each year.

The RFID tags will now be fitted to all the 40,000 bags that leave the airport every day on flights to more than 150 locations. The airport, which was one of the first to adopt RFID, has upgraded its former barcode-based system at a cost of $7.8 million.

The three-year contract has been awarded to Motorola with an option for a fourth year. The company supplied hardware and tags and implemented the first RFID project at the airport in 2005. The XR400 and AR400 fixed readers were adopted along with the MC9090-G handheld mobile computers. Now the Gen-2 baggage tags will be used.

Specific to this baggage tag award, Motorola has teamed with Avery Dennison for the AD-833 inlay and Print-O-Tape for the baggage tag. The companies plan to continue working together on market development initiatives for using RFID in baggage tracking.

Unlike barcode-only tags, that required the scanner to be in line of sight to read the tag, the EPC Gen-2 enabled bag tags can be read at long distances and without direct contact. The system is also more reliable, achieving average read rates of more than 97% against 80% from the barcode system.

As a result this latest system allows more accurate tracking of baggage through the airport’s system. Instead of workers having to manually handscan each item as it is directed to the aircraft for loading, the luggage now passes more than 300 fixed interrogators installed at various points along the airport’s many long conveyors that take items from check-in to each aircraft.

With all the airport’s 70 airlines taking part in the program, printing and scanning is all done at the respective terminals. When a piece of luggage is checked, the RFID inlay is encoded with a unique ID number as well as the Julian date (a number indicating the date and time).

The flight number and the three-letter code representing the destination airport are printed on the front of the tag as the tag’s ID number, in both text and barcode formats. The RFID number then links the data in the airport’s back-end luggage handling system, such as the name of the passenger who owns the bag, the flight number and the destination airport. Once it is printed and encoded, the self-adhesive tag is folded round the bag’s handle.

The readers have improved efficiency in luggage handling to the point that 5% more bags can now be handled, as the average time required to process each piece of luggage has decreased. This is of great benefit to the airport and passengers, especially at peak times.

At present the airport tags passenger bags in multiple locations including check-in counters in Terminal 1 and Terminal 2, in-town check-in desks in Kowloon station and Hong Kong station of Airport Express and upstream check-in facilities in the Pearl River delta area.

Opened in 1998, Hong Kong International Airport is an international and regional aviation centre, connecting more than 150 cities around the world including some 40 destinations on the Chinese mainland. Last year more than 48.6 million passengers passed through the complex.

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