New EU security regulations and growing financial concerns are forcing many airports to rethink baggage and cargo processing strategies. Damien Breier, vice-president of BNP Associates, discusses the key to efficiency and the latest technological developments in the field.
As increasing cost pressures and security worries continue to impact the industry, airports are frantically searching for more-efficient ways to process passenger baggage, handle cargo and carry out apron services.
"A lot of the world's airports are privatising - they're no longer operating as government entities," says Damien Breier, vice-president of BNP Associates. "As a result, they now have a real bottom line. And that's piling on the financial stress. There's also a shift towards using EU Standard 3 equipment (based on CAT scanning technology) for whole-baggage screening, a consequence of European Union regulations," he continues.
"These machines are quite different to what's currently being used, requiring major upgrades throughout Europe. Most other regions, like the Middle East and Asia, are also following suit. According to current EU regulations, The switch has to be made throughout Europe by 2020."
For those looking to reduce costs and make baggage processing more efficient, it is often better to invest money in improving existing systems rather than building new facilities. New buildings - and new land - can be extremely expensive.
Labour costs are also coming into sharper focus. Even in countries where manpower has traditionally been less of a focus, such as Singapore, there is an increasing emphasis on improving productivity levels of individual members of staff. Much of this, according to Breier, will be achieved by increasing automation.
"The traditional way of getting bags into a unit loading device is for a man to take them off a conveyor and place them into it," he says. "Now, though, we are looking at how that process can be performed automatically and designing systems around that."
In Singapore, BNP Associates has been involved in the design of Changi's new Terminal Four - scheduled for completion in 2017. The firm has designed the system with the latest form of baggage system technology called an individual carrier system. It is currently under construction.
"Every bag can be tracked and traced throughout the entire process, so the operator can always know exactly where each bag is," says Breier. "It's very resistant to failures because of redundant lines and redundant pathways. Even when there is a mechanical or electrical failure, you can still process peak loads because of the way the system has been designed. Plus, it can fit into quite a small space.
"The overall cost has also been very competitive. After designing it, we let suppliers bid for the initial supply and 15 years of O&M in a competitive tendering process. As a result, the cost of ownership for the airport will be very low."
Headquartered in the US with offices on five continents, BNP also has extensive experience with CAT scanning equipment for baggage screening. This form of technology has been in use throughout the country on a trial basis since the late '90s and extensively since the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
"We've worked on projects in the US that need Transportation Security Administration-compliant systems, involving more than 500 of these types of screening machines all over the country," says Breier.
"We've recently designed major upgrades to Copenhagen's airport baggage and screening systems, and we're working on a project in Abu Dhabi that includes implementing Standard 3 screening, among many others.
"Also, in Singapore for Terminal One, we're currently designing a retrofit to meet new EU standards. We have more than 15 years' experience in this area, as we were also working on pilot projects in the US with this technology before 9/11."
The firm designs and monitors the implementation and testing for baggage handling, and air cargo systems and processes, as well as apron services, which includes aircraft parking, passenger loading, bridges, ground power, preconditioned aircraft air and visual guidance docking stems. It also ensures everything is operationally ready in these areas.
"We're like the equivalent of architects for all those different types of systems. We don't actually produce the equipment ourselves, instead we produce efficient designs and ensure that they are implemented correctly by the suppliers" says Breier.
"We've been doing this for more than 40 years and are by far the biggest firm in the industry. We have experience on every continent - bar Antarctica - and with almost every type of equipment and process you can imagine.
"We're also able to design systems to a very high level of detail," he continues. "This means that when an owner is looking to buy, they can be confident they're comparing apples to apples with each potential supplier, so are able to pick a low-cost one - the design specificity ensures quality production."
In future, Breier foresees a continued increase in airports' size, coupled with a demand for speedier connections and processing times, and a reduction in required manpower. All this will, he believes, mean automated rapid movement of baggage becoming a priority.
"We are now exploring and designing methods to accomplish this at large-scale facilities, where the terminals or concourses can be kilometres apart," he says. "We're looking at several mega airports, where there are more than 100 million passengers a year, and are master planning methods for moving baggage and goods - all in the smallest amount of time possible and using the absolute minimum manpower. That's the direction we think the future is going to take."