NXP, Other Companies Preparing for Influx of RFID Baggage Technology Requests

The International Air Transport Association has recommended that all airline passenger bags be tagged with RFID by 2020; RFID companies expect the technology's resulting growth to reflect the retail industry's adoption.
Published: September 3, 2018

Following the release of an updated recommended practice (RP) from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that airline baggage tags come equipped with RFID functionality, technology firms are aligning themselves to offer the necessary UHF RFID-based products. NXP Semiconductors, Impinj, Alien Technology and Zebra Technologies are among those providing the RFID technology.

The RP document, known as “RP 1740C,” along with IATA’s “Resolution 753” for accurate baggage handling, endorses UHF tags for bags and readers for airports and airlines to automatically track the status and location of luggage. The updated recommendation, drafted and submitted for approval at this year’s IATA Passenger Services Conference (PSC), aims for the inclusion of RFID inlays in all bag tags manufactured after January 2020 (see Airline Industry Embraces RFID Baggage Tracking).

IATA’s mandate for RFID technology use is intended to further the downward trajectory of baggage mishandling rates for airlines worldwide. It is one step in more than a decade’s worth of technology-based efforts by IATA, according to Andrew Price, the organization’s head of global baggage operations.

As early as 2005, IATA was already looking into RFID (see IATA Approves UHF for Bag Tags). The group knew the technology would work, but also that intermediary steps would reduce baggage mishandling, such as bar-code scanning of each bag that is received from a passenger, loaded onto a plane and then sent to a dedicated carousel to be retrieved by passengers.

The 2005 RP, leveraging bar-code scanning, reduced mishandling rates from 18.87 mishandled bags per 1,000 to only 5.73 out of 1,000. That, Price says, was good news for everyone involved. “However, the rate of reduction is slowing,” he states. “So we need RFID to continue the industry’s improvements in baggage handling.”

A challenge in implementing RFID has been one of logistics, however. Why would an airline invest in RFID reading infrastructure, he suggests, if the airports did not—and vice versa? The mandate, then, is intended to push adoption past the stage of waiting for other stakeholders to take the first step. “RFID is the lowest cost method for automatic baggage identification, and thus tracking,” Price says, and IATA expects the technology to further increase the rate of properly handled baggage above the current 99.4 percent. “The move to RFID provides a new, reliable information foundation on which to build the processes of the future.”

For technology providers, the challenge lies is providing the solutions that will be required to enable RFID’s adoption. NXP, a maker of integrated circuits, including UHF RFID chips, has been aligning with air transportation stakeholders, says Susanne Schadler, the company’s marketing manager of RAIN RFID logistics—not just airlines and airports, but those who will be working with the technology on a daily basis, such as baggage handlers and manufacturers of baggage-handling equipment.

“It will be ambitious to align all partners in one year,” Schadler says. However, IATA has had an RP in place for two decades regarding the tracking of individual bags, and that means airlines and airports have been thinking along the terms of technology-based baggage tracking for some time.

Delta Air Lines has already deployed RFID for tracking all passenger baggage (see Delta Gives Green Light to RFID Baggage Tracking). Airports such as McCarran International Airport, in Las Vegas, and Hong Kong International Airport have also adopted RFID technology for bags that pass through their facilities. In the meantime, Schadler says, there are multiple proof-of-concepts under way in which NXP chips are being used in baggage tags. “We have a very good product in place” that works for this application, she adds: the Ucode 8, which is omni-directional and has shown high performance results in deployments to date.

The RFID chips will be built into the paper hangtags that airlines use to identify each bag and its destination airport. The only difference will be the presence of the RFID tag, which will have a unique ID number that can be linked to the specific bag in an airline’s or airport’s software-management system.

“For RAIN RFID, this is a big move,” Schadler says. “RFID is well adopted in retail.” Twelve billion tags were sold in 2017, she adds, and the majority were used in retail. The retail adoption, Schadler says, “now enables other markets to follow, and this could be the next growth market.”

The RP may also serve as an entry point for other RFID-based solutions. With RFID being used to track baggage, NXP believes it may be supplying technology for an entire smart travel experience, in which a traveler’s bags tag could be recognized at other locations, such as public transit or at hotels. Moreover, RFID tags in other tickets could be recognized at airports for baggage-tracking purposes.

Another technology company working with the airline and airport industries is Impinj. Its RFID products are in use in some of the world’s biggest air transport industry deployments, says Wendy Werblin, the company’s director of industry solutions. That includes its Monza tag chips, as well as its Speedway Revolution fixed readers and Indy reader chips and modules.

Technology can also be customized, Werblin says, in order to fit such use cases as conveyors or belt loaders and baggage hold areas. “Our ItemSense and Speedway Connect software,” she states, “makes it easy to integrate RAIN data from fixed readers into business applications to drive operational improvements.”

“We believe that for the RAIN RFID industry,” Werblin says, “IATA 753 represents a significant opportunity over the next several years to track more than four billion pieces of luggage annually through airports around the world.” That universal use of RFID could improve operations and customer service, she notes, as well as save airlines billions of dollars annually. “For the RAIN industry, this is huge in that it’s one of the biggest ways we’ve seen yet to bring the benefits of RAIN directly to the consumer. It’s a great sign of things to come.”

With regard to RFID inlays, several companies are serving up products to meet the growing demand. More than 40 million bags have already been tagged with Alien’s tags, says Patti Blessing, the firm’s VP of business development. Alien’s Squiggle and SHORT tags are being used to automate baggage tracking, and the company’s latest inlay, the Aviator, was designed specifically for the airline industry luggage-tagging initiative, she says.

“These tags provide superior performance for requirements,” Blessing says, “including sortation and singulation.” Airlines are also using Alien’s H450 handheld and enterprise F800 reader to capture the tag ID numbers of baggage labels at airports. “As we learned with retail RFID adoption, once RFID is deployed, it feeds into all areas of operations and brings increased value.” She cites applications such as tool and equipment tracking at airports, tool calibration management and access control as a few potential use cases.

Software and logistics solutions company Lyngsoe Systems serves as both a product supplier and systems integrator for baggage-handling systems. A total of 1,600 Lyngsoe Belt Loader Readers are installed throughout 84 airports to provide automatic notification of baggage status, thereby speeding up loading times and reducing man-hours, says Kristine Koldkjaer, Lyngsoe’s product manager. One of the main hubs in Europe is also using a Datalogic and Lyngsoe ATR+R bar-code and RFID reader solution for the accurate sortation of bags.

One obstacle to large-scale rollouts has been the limited amount of tagged baggage. “We have delivered solutions to airlines and airports for over 10 years now,” Koldkjaer says, “and are thrilled to see one of the main barriers for RFID adaption finally being removed.” Lyngsoe is now expanding its RFID solution portfolio to support more airport use cases, she reports. The company plans to release a new selection of RFID readers for wide-body plane loading.

Zebra Technologies provides RFID baggage-handling solutions for both Hong Kong International Airport and McCarren Airport, as well as others, says Pankaj Shukla, Zebra’s director of global RFID market development. In recent years, Zebra’s FX7500 fixed readers and AN-480 antennas were deployed by a global airline at approximately 85 North American airports.

“Our new FX9600 high-performance RFID reader is also designed to meet the performance and environmental requirements for similar usage,” Shukla states. Later this year, he says, the company plans to introduce an RFID-enabled handheld mobile computer that will be “ideal for baggage sortation and below the wing operations among other applications.”