Welcome to RFID 24-7

Stimulus funds could accelerate
use of RFID at U.S. airports

12/07/09 | John R. Johnson | email

RFID technology could get a significant boost from the billions of dollars doled out in this year's stimulus package. Specifically, growth could occur in the airport baggage-handling sector, where misplaced and lost bags cost the airline industry billions each year.

It's a problem that has plagued travelers and airlines for years, impacting 42 million passengers annually. RFID technology isnít a new solution on this front, as baggage tracking represented one of the first RFID applications with a legitimate return on investment.

However, the use of the technology hasnít taken flight as fast as some would like. About a dozen airports worldwide use the technology to track baggage, the most well known being Hong Kong and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Airports in Milan, Lisbon and Copenhagen rolled out RFID baggage tracking solutions recently.

"We've had airports contact us about using stimulus money to modernize baggage systems in an effort to make their airports more attractive to international carriers and cut costs at the same time," says Patrick Sweeney, founder of ODIN technologies.

As RFID continues to prove itself by eliminating lost bags, the tipping point could be near for baggage tracking and RFID, especially as prices continue to drop for tags and readers. In addition, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) would like to bring 20 airports online with RFID technology by this May. IATA estimates that every piece of lost luggage results in up to $100 in additional costs for airlines and airports. Spending stimulus money on RFID-enabled baggage tracking would clearly benefit the federally operated Transportation Security Administration, which oversees security at all U.S. airports.

"The interesting thing is that airports are quite interested in using stimulus money to pay for this, because they can apply for stimulus money for anything that impacts the TSA," says Sweeney. TSA, for example, would benefit when baggage makes it on to an international flight, but a traveler does not. In that case, a TSA representative has to crawl into the hull of the plane and check bag by bag to find the right bar code. "That can be a nightmare," says Sweeney. "You can take a couple of man hours there and turn it into a couple of minutes with an RFID tag with a search function on it."

In a new RFID baggage tag benchmark study conducted by ODIN, several RFID tags designed specifically for airline baggage tracking provided nearly 100 percent read accuracy across global RFID frequency testing for the first time ever. The benchmark is designed to help airports and airlines understand the key performance characteristics behind successful RFID baggage tagging solutions and how current tag offerings stack up to scientific scrutiny.

"What's changed a lot is the price and the accuracy rates," says Sweeney. "Three of four years ago, you were talking 25 or 30 cent tags and they wouldnít work on metal bags or hard plastic. Now we have 10 cent tags that provide 100 percent accuracy on everything, and that is a big takeaway."

ODIN conducted 450 tests apiece on 13 tags, with six tags making the final round of testing at a Washington, D.C.-area airport. Testing first included scientific, laboratory based tests. Then, tags were tested on a high-speed baggage sortation system traveling at 240 feet per minute. The goal was to primarily test tag sensitivity of converted labels (baggage tags) across the global UHF frequency band (ETSI/Europe, FCC/United States, and TELEC/Japan). Europe and Japan represent the low and high end of the UHF frequency spectrum allocated for use globally and the U.S. covers a wide spectrum in the middle. Other geographies typically allocate spectrum within these ranges. It is important to test across the UHF spectrum because tag performance often varies in different frequencies.

Sweeney expects that half the airports worldwide will use RFID in the next five years. He says the technology provides a quick return on investment, especially since more than 10 percent of all baggage errors are caused by unreadable barcodes, whereas over 98 percent of all RFID tagged baggage today is read properly the first time.

"For Class B airports or major carriers, RFID can provide a pay back in less than 12 months," he says. "In the past the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has made funding for these projects available for Airport authorities because of the faster access to tagged bags and enhanced security. Now that airports have more variety in quality tag choices and solid ROI case studies, there has never been a better time to invest in RFID."

Andrew Price, assistant director of the IATAís Baggage Improvement Program, says that IATA is working on a plan that will allow airports around the world to pool their purchasing needs for RFID tags in order to receive better pricing. He estimates that baggage tags should be available for about 10 cents apiece.

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas just concluded its fourth full year of using RFID to track baggage. The airport just ordered 15 million more tags from Motorola and Avery Dennison. The airport tags about 14 million bags annually. The order is the airportís final outlay for the near-obsolete Gen 1 tags it has used since 2005; Gen 2 tags will be used in 2011, which will allow the airport better pricing, more technology benefits and the ability to write to the tags. Read rates at McCarron are between 99 and 99.5 percent.

"The bags will have all of the details related to the customer, the carrier and the trip, and that license plate will allow for integration on a worldwide basis," says Samuel Ingalls, assistant director of aviation, information systems at McCarran. "Having that license plate number written to that bag tag is a very important piece of information and I think will really enhance the worldwide usability of that tag."

Currently, the baggage check system at Las Vegas, and at many other airports, is a closed loop system for that facility only. As more airports go online, the benefits will multiply. The biggest advantage will be the ability to track baggage that might become misplaced several stops from the city where the flight initiated.

"That is whatís down the road," says Ingalls. "We are using the system largely locally here in accordance with aviation industry standards, but the benefits related to RFID grow exponentially as additional cities and airports come online. The more users, the more benefits we derive from that RFID tag."

click to jump to top

For more information:

RFID 24-7 ©2008 · all rights reserved · sign up for our email newsletter

website by Fat Cat Design · last updated Mon Aug 29 2011