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RFID Controls Cargo Traffic at Hong Kong International Airport

Asia Airfreight Terminal deployed an RFID-based truck control system to monitor and manage traffic flow at two air-cargo terminals.
By Bob Violino
Aug 30, 2010—Asia Airfreight Terminal (AAT) operates two air-cargo terminals at Hong Kong International Airport, under a franchise awarded by the Airport Authority Hong Kong. AAT serves a number of leading airlines, offering physical cargo handling, documentation processing and other services. Revenue for a cargo terminal relies heavily on the turnover of delivered goods, so effective control of vehicles and cargo is critical. The organization's management, which is committed to investing in technology to improve customer services, deployed an RFID-based truck control system (TCS) to monitor and control traffic flow at the two terminals.

The RFID-based truck control system replaced an earlier TCS that AAT had developed and implemented in 2001 at its Terminal 1. That system employed smart-card technology, integrated with interactive voice response software (IVRS) and drop-arm barriers, to manage truck activities, allocate truck docks according to a vehicle's incoming purpose, and capture cargo delivery and collection information. Drivers swiped the smart cards as they entered and exited the terminal. The IVRS was used to verify drivers' identities and tell them the dock numbers to which they were assigned (their mobile phone numbers were registered with AAT).

When a pre-registered vehicle arrives at the terminal's entrance gate, the RFID tag is read automatically and the driver selects its incoming purpose at a kiosk located near the RFID reader at the gate.

But the solution did not optimize traffic flow in the terminal, AAT reports. The system required drivers' input, which inevitably caused problems or affected the validity of the data captured. Some drivers, for example, would forget to bring their smart cards to the terminal—and even when they had their smart cards, some would leave the truck docks without swiping them, so the system still registered the docks as occupied even though they were vacant.

When AAT decided to add a second terminal facility at the airport in 2006, the company explored alternative technologies to enhance the TCS. First, it considered using optical character recognition (OCR) systems to read vehicle-registration numbers. But OCR offered lower accuracy and at a higher cost, says Nelson Lee, AAT's general manager of corporate development.

"Ultimately, RFID could offer the best solution [for] improving the TCS," Lee says. "The technology has matured in recent years, and the low cost of each tag makes RFID a viable option. RFID's automatic identification of vehicles speeds up cargo delivery, keeps track of service standards and even enhances security, as access is only given to authorized vehicles."
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