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Intercontinental RFID Baggage Tagging Trial Launches

Emirates Airline will simultaneously test RFID baggage tracking systems at airports in Dubai, London, and Hong Kong. The six-month trial is expected to include 500,000 passenger bags and is viewed as a catalyst for airport adoption.
Feb 15, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

February 15, 2008—Emirates Airline is planning to test RFID systems at three airports simultaneously in what it bills as the world's largest baggage tracking trial. The Dubai-based airline announced it will track half a million passenger bags over six months for flights between its Dubai hub to London's Heathrow Airport and Hong Kong International Airport.

"Previous RFID trials by other parties on a smaller scale have shown that the technology almost eliminates scanner misreads, significantly improving the efficiency of the baggage system and customer experience. We are now applying this on a much larger scale at three major airport hubs," Emirates' Dale Griffith said in the company's announcement. "If this trial is as successful as we expect, Emirates will be encouraging airports across its network to embrace this technology. This could become a new industry standard for baggage handling." Emirates said the introduction of 58 high-capacity Airbus A380 double-decker aircraft into its fleet prompted the airline to find more efficient ways to handle baggage. The company intends to invest roughly AED 2 million (~US$500,000) in the trial.

At Heathrow, RFID tags will be placed on all passenger bags for Emirates' five daily flights to Dubai, which total approximately 1,500 passengers, according to Pankaj Shukla, who is director of RFID business development at Motorola. Motorola's RFID technology is being used in the Heathrow trial. Bags will be tagged and recorded when they are received at check-in and will also be tracked at transfer points and when they are loaded to outbound planes. Airport operator BAA is conducting the trial with Emirates. The airline is using an RFID system from a different vendor at the Dubai airport to test interoperability, according to Shukla. Gen2 RFID tags and readers will be used throughout operations.

"We are extremely excited by this project, which will track bags at every stage of their journey and could significantly improve the efficiency of Heathrow's baggage system, delivering an improved service to both passengers and airlines alike," Stephen Challis, head of product development at BAA Heathrow, said in Motorola's announcement. "Upon successful introduction, and in partnership with the airline community, the technology could be extended across the airport, transforming the way airlines handle baggage."

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has predicted the airline industry could reduce lost or delayed bags between 12 and 15 percent and save $760 million per year by fully implementing RFID baggage tracking. Many of the benefits come from improved tracking through better bag tag reading accuracy. IATA based its figures on read rates of 80 to 90 percent for legacy bar code reading systems, and 95 to 99 percent for RFID, which is consistent with results where RFID baggage tracking systems are used.

According to Shukla, airlines and airport operators generally accept the results of studies that found baggage misplacement costs the industry $3.6 billion annually, and flight delays -- whether caused by baggage problem or other factors -- cost about $7,600 per minute.

"The outlook for airport adoption of RFID baggage tracking is improving very rapidly," said Shukla. "The work by the EPCglobal and ISO organizations to harmonize RFID air interface standards, and IATA's new standard for airline bag tags, have helped tremendously."

Shukla said the international airport in Milan, Italy, will soon go live with an RFID baggage tracking system without having conducted a trial first. He said ongoing, non-pilot systems in Hong Kong and at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas have proven the effectiveness and value of RFID baggage tracking. Observers have pointed to Heathrow as a marquee airport that could spur further adoption (see RFID Baggage Tagging Taking Off in the UK). See Motorola on Aviation Adoption of RFID for more perspective on the market.
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