Change is always slow in an industry with very little downtime and vast infrastructures, but at the 2017 IATA Ground Handling Conference (IGHC) in May, industry leaders finally agreed that the system needed an update. This year, the IGHC Innovator Award was introduced for the first time to foster new ideas. The inaugural winner was BBHS for its intelligent baggage handling solution, which removes 95% of manual lifting.
Moving baggage between aircraft and airport relies on manual labour at crucial transfer points, but the heavy labour takes a significant toll on the ageing workforce. The high incidence of injuries discourages people from working in baggage handling and translates into increased costs for airports.
Meanwhile, poor handling of bags is the most common reason for delayed flights, which passes the cost on to airlines and then passengers.
Erik Andersen, sales director at BBHS, says this has been the catalyst for the development of the company's new bulk baggage handling system.
"[BBHS] was developed as an add-on to existing baggage handling systems to protect the work environment, while ensuring that bags are controlled all the time and delivered to the aircraft in the right sequence so SLAs are fulfilled," he explains.
The modular system fills the gap between an airport's existing baggage handling system and the aircraft. It sorts and segments baggage as it comes through from the aircraft or check-in, using a system of scanners to keep track of all bags at all times. BBHS baggage carts tilt to keep bags in position or slide them onto conveyor belts, with no manual lifting necessary.
From the aircraft, they deliver the bags to an arrival consolidation unit that keeps them in the correct order as they move along the belt. Scanners connect to gates that shunt each bag either to the reclaim area or transit. A central capacity booster keeps the otherwise chaotic stream of departing baggage under control, using gravity to nudge baggage in the right direction.
Then, a make-up station aligns each bag perfectly to make the best use of space, before sorting and segmenting them into departure consolidation units, which empty directly into baggage carts for delivery to the aircraft. The carts rotate to face the aircraft's cargo bay and smoothly tip their sorted loads inside.
The whole process is fast enough that it doesn't need to start until every bag on a flight has been checked in. Bags can be delivered to arrival bays in less than ten seconds a cart, which reduces the number of carts on the ramp at any given time by as much as 80%, according to Andersen.
The automation is gentler on passengers' belongings than the manual method of lifting and heaving, and BBHS's modular design enables it to fit into an airport's existing infrastructure with minimal effect on its footprint.
Andersen is careful to note that the system is smart and automated, but not robotic. "Robots stand idle for quite some time; they're very expensive and they take up far too much space," he explains. "The challenge was to address this while reducing the footprint."
BBHS has already been installed for arrivals at Denmark's BLL Billund Airport, which is designed to handle up to 3.5 million passengers a year. The airport is receiving acclaim from authorities and employees for its improved work environment and plans to implement a full BBHS arrival and departure system in the coming years.
"The majority of the workforce now does not want to use the conventional way of loading and unloading because they've seen all the benefits to their work environment and to their bodies; they're not being worn down," says Andersen.
The next step for BBHS will be a similar system for unit load devices (ULDs). The aim is to save handlers' backs, airports' money and airlines' time.