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Emirates RFID Bag-Tracking Pilot Takes Off

The airline is using EPC RFID tags to track luggage on flights to and from airports in Dubai, London and Hong Kong, which recently RFID-enabled all its check-in counters.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Still, some airports and airlines are embracing the technology. Hong Kong International Airport, for instance, announced last month that it had retrofitted all of its check-in counter baggage-tag printers to accommodate RFID-enabled tags, and also installed RFID readers in all of its baggage-handling equipment. The airport says 50 airlines that use its facility apply RFID tags to a total of 40,000 bags—90 percent of all the bags departing from the airport—each day. McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas has also converted its baggage-tracking system to RFID (see McCarran Airport RFID System Takes Off), and in 2007 RFID-tagged 20,000 to 40,000 checked bags per day (see RFID Takes Off in the Aerospace Industry).

If the Emirates trial proves the use of RFID to track bags is more reliable than bar codes and can lead to more efficient and accurate baggage handling, Heathrow may join these airports in installing an RFID infrastructure throughout the airport, according to BAA, which owns Heathrow, along with seven other airports in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe.

Stephen Challis, BAA's head of product development, said in a statement that Heathrow is hopeful RFID may "significantly improve the efficiency of Heathrow's baggage system, delivering an improved service to both passengers and airlines alike. Upon successful introduction, and in partnership with the airline community, the technology could be extended across the airport, transforming the way airlines handle baggage."

Shukla says Motorola or Symbol (now Motorola's Enterprise Mobility Business division) has been involved in a number of previous RFID technology trials designed to improve luggage handling, including those in Las Vegas, Hong Kong and South Korea (see Asiana Deploying RFID at Six Airports). However, Shukla claims, this is the first in which it is working with several other RFID hardware and software providers.

While Motorola is providing the RFID readers used at Heathrow, with Fujitsu contributing the RFID printer-encoders for the baggage tags, the other airports are employing readers and printer-encoders from different manufacturers. All of the RFID inlays and readers used comply with the EPC Gen 2 UHF air-interface standard for passive RFID tags, he says, but Emirates wants to ensure that if it rolled out RFID technology across its system, it could utilize standard hardware from various makers. To test this goal, the airline opted to work with multiple RFID vendors.

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