Based on the latest IATA projections, aviation is expected to double over the next 20 years to 8.2bn (IATA, n.d.) passengers and in line with this, there will be increased load on existing infrastructure and operational performance of airlines, airports and ground handlers. Ensuring the capacity to support this growth is key and part of this is how the data is captured, stored, managed and exploited in a safe and secure manner. This is fundamental across all aspects of the airport and airlines operations.
Over the past decade, the rates of baggage mishandling have fallen from 18.9 per thousand bags to 5.69 per thousand bags (as of 2018). While this is an improvement of 70% the cost of the mishandling still totals to $3.2 bn. (SITA, n.d.) This is money that could be reinvested by all the stakeholders in their respective customer offerings.
Over the past 3 years, the baggage mishandling rate has remained broadly the same - with around 5.5 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers - but in the last year, we have seen the mishandling move up slightly (SITA, n.d.). From transfer mishandling to ticketing errors to tagging errors, there are several reasons for baggage mishandling. On top of that, the legacy approach to the messaging adds significant challenges with the data and its quality, requiring additional handling.
In its continued focus to improve baggage mishandling, IATA introduced Resolution 753 for the tracking of baggage at a minimum of four locations: check in, loading, transfer and Arrival. (IATA) With RFID identified as the technology enabler, due to the nature of the readers and its costs, this opens the opportunity for airports to significantly increase their number of read locations throughout the terminal. This additional level of granularity in tracking luggage through the baggage ecosystem would enable far more analysis to be carried out on a bag’s journey. As a result, airports would be able to predict which bags may miss their flights and thereby proactively start managing the baggage that is “at Risk” of not making it to the aircraft on time.
One of the key misconceptions is that the current infrastructure needs to be completely changed. In reality, RFID complements the existing solutions and can provide a non-impactful route to the adoption of RFID.
Wipro is working with key market players to identify nonproprietary solutions to ensure the operational processes and procedures are not only capable of being implemented to the existing infrastructure but will deliver the benefits identified through the analysis conducted by IATA. However, it is up to the airports, airlines, ground handlers and IT service providers to ensure that the solution delivery is optimized at all steps of the journey to make it as seamless a migration to the new (IATA, n.d.) as possible.
Opportunity: What if we could predict whether customers would arrive in time for standard baggage processing, assuming they’re using mobile apps, based on traffic around the airport? If there’s congestion on the roads around the airport, what time might passengers arrive? Is there enough time to go through the baggage processing? If not, what exception processing could be implemented if the passenger has time to make the flight? This way, the airport can be proactive in its plans long before it sees the passenger or the bag.
Opportunity: What if once a bag hits the sortation system, with having several readers around the system, we could start predicting where it should be at a specific time? If the bag doesn’t arrive within the tolerance limits, alerts can be triggered and, due to the increased number of tracking points, we could locate the missing bag much quicker. Could this also be linked to predictive asset maintenance? If we know the potential routings and the bag volumes going through that part of the system, we can ensure that any maintenance, if not conducted OOH, is completed at a time that minimizes operational impact.
With the requirement for Hold Baggage Screening (HBS), we are now able to validate and report far better on the bag’s journey through the screening area and then start identifying if it is being sent to secondary screening and potentially tertiary screening. What does that mean for the bag getting to the makeup areas within the terminal? Is the flow of baggage going to be impacted due to high numbers going to the additional level, is it happening at a certain time of day, week, for a flight / airline? We can start capturing, storing, analyzing these data points to better predict and manage the operation.
There are numerous areas where we can start to improve the operation and reduce some of the mishandling of baggage. In turn, we will lower the cost to the industry through recovery costs to airlines, Ground handlers etc. However, we still need to address some of the fundamental challenges around baggage. This starts with the adoption of a more up-to-date messaging standard moving away from the Type B message and that’s where we look to XML.
XML is a messaging standard with an intelligently designed information model. Unlike the current messaging standards, People and Devices can easily read and understand XML message content, thereby improving the integration between airlines and their systems with higher quality data. Per a report by IATA, “This is an extensible messaging technology, which means that it can be added to when required by new information or practices. Despite this, XML is standardized and therefore simple for multiple suppliers to use.” (IATA, n.d.)
The challenge is that all airlines have implemented the Type B messages for their baggage operations. Because some, but not all, have started to move to XML, interline and transfers may be impacted. This leads to additional requirements to be able to convert and/or integrate both options. The biggest concern for the current operation is that there are significant issues identified around the quality and delivery of that information.
Benefits of the adoption of XML
There are some key benefits associated with the adoption of XML, which removes some of the challenges and barriers with the existing Type B messaging. (IATA)
The XML is driven by the use and adoption of the Airline Industry Data Model, which helps with the definition and the data content. Coupled with the XSD, it reduces the overall complexity. In addition to the adoption of XML, the solution is further future-proofed due to users’ ability to add and remove content as needed by the industry. It provides backward compatibility with an adaptable message format.
With the potential to include additional information, there may also be the need to secure the data, which can be delivered with the use of an embedded digital certificate.
In addition to the above, the use of XML is widely adopted within the digital realm and used extensively by airlines and airports; thus, knowledge already exists in many organizations. As a result, there’s no proprietary services of systems that would need to be utilized.
XML would also not need to use what by today’s standards is a costly way to incurring the per transaction teletype messages.
Business Case: So how does the industry move forward with RFID tracking, XML adoption, and realizing the achievable benefits?
To be able to deliver the step change required to capitalize on RFID capabilities alongside the use of XML messaging, there are key areas that will need to be adapted, developed, and implemented. These range from the actual tags to the common use/dedicated workstation and peripherals to the baggage sortation system and reconciliation system to the airline’s departure control systems and arrivals displays.
Airports must also make fundamental decisions. For instance, will it be a local install with the associated integration platform, databases, and servers or a cloud-hosted centralized service that will be accessible to all parties irrespective of airport or geography? Is there a regional approach required for adoption?
In deciding whether to move forward, the key issue is with building a business case, establishing ROI, and determining how the customer experience is enhanced. None of this will happen overnight, and it will require a substantial amount of planning, implementation and execution. Having been potentially set prior to Resolution 753, the airport’s strategic road map may require adaption and budgeting in order to be implemented. (ACI, n.d.)
The following diagram identifies key areas of improvement, pinpoints where benefits can be realized, and acts as a blueprint for the building of a business case. (IATA, n.d.)
Opportunities with RFID – Building a Business Case
The key challenge that the industry will encounter with this new capability is how we move forward with the migration. Migration strategy will be key to building the momentum and adoption — as the true benefits for the industry will only start after momentum is built.
Some of the major airlines have been able to implement the RFID tracking and have seen great response from their customers; however, they invested heavily in deploying RFID to be able to provide additional levels of customer service. If there’s no alignment among airports, service providers, and airlines, we are going to have multiple approaches and outcomes — an issue, to be sure.
Implementation and Migration
While we can deploy RFID alongside traditional barcodes, we need to consider several areas in the planning and implementation process in order to do it effectively. Because the majority of airports already have baggage sortation, reconciliation, and screening as part of their operations, the key focus will be moving — in a planned manner — away from the barcodes to the new RFID world.
Will the airports stop printing barcodes and data on the baggage tags? Unlikely, as this provides a very visual way to identify the routing details of the bag. Will the barcode read at the same read rate as the RFID? All evidence points to the fact that RFID will perform at a higher rate. Therefore, while having both aspects available, airlines are able to make the migration to Resolution 753. This complementary approach will ensure operational continuity even while airlines move to RFID — no one left behind!
Implementation of RFID is seen as the opportunity to improve baggage handling and processing, but with the potential to read a ULD full of bags at once, the key to making this work is ensuring the business processes are reengineered to support the new paradigm. Not all airports will approach implementation and migration in the same way, so it’s key to ensure that whomever they partner with can deliver a comprehensive approach to the migration.
Airports and airlines that embrace the RFID approach will be able to reshape their customer service and operations — with many companies moving forward with a digital transformation agenda. While RFID will improve tracking, the real value is in the data: specifically, how it’s exploited and analyzed to improve operations and systems.
In order to deliver on these aspects, it’s key to select the right partners for the relevant domains. Wipro is working with some of the key players in the industry to enable an exceptional migration and operational path to RFID implementation: who provides the consumables, the encoders and readers, the data capture, and the data processing and analytics.
At the ACI – NA BIT conference in Tampa in September 2019, the team comprised of Wipro, Lyngsoe Systems, Avery Dennison and Zebra Technologies, all of whom are key players in the baggage ecosystem presented their views on the best way to move forward and what barriers we have to adoption and whether they are real or perceived. We would welcome the opportunity to further discuss the RFID Tracking and exploitation and can be reached either by phone or email.
If there is anything that you would like to discuss further with regards to this paper, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I would be more than happy to engage with you on this topic.
ACI. (n.d.). ACI World statement on the deployment of RFID technology for baggage tracking. Retrieved from ACI World: https://aci.aero/news/2019/06/06/aci-world-statement-on-the-deployment-of-rfid-technology-for-baggage-tracking/
IATA. (n.d.). Baggage Tracking. Retrieved from RFID Implemantation Guide: https://www.iata.org/whatwedo/ops-infra/baggage/Pages/index.aspx
IATA. (n.d.). IATA Forecast Predicts 8.2 billion Air Travelers in 2037. Retrieved from IATA: https://www.iata.org/pressroom/pr/Pages/2018-10-24-02.aspx
IATA. (n.d.). Modern Baggage Messaging. Retrieved from IATA: https://www.iata.org/whatwedo/ops-infra/baggage/Pages/baggage-xml.aspx
IATA. (n.d.). Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). Retrieved from IATA: https://www.iata.org/whatwedo/ops-infra/baggage/Pages/rfid.aspx
IATA. (n.d.). RFID XML infographic. Retrieved from IATA: https://www.iata.org/whatwedo/ops-infra/baggage/Documents/RFID_XML_infographic_June2019.pdf
SITA. (n.d.). Baggage IT insights 2019. Retrieved from SITA: https://www.sita.aero/resources/type/surveys-reports/baggage-it-insights-2019
Practice Director- Airports
Michael Irons (Mike) is an Airport IT Transformation SME at Wipro’s Engineering Construction and Operations vertical, with over 21 years of experience. Mike started his aviation career in the baggage environment and participated in some of the first trials of RFID technology in baggage. He has an achievement of successful growth in the Airport / Airline Common Use Market enabling SITA to increase its worldwide presence by some 80 % over the past 7 years. He has substantial experience across a wide portfolio of Airline and Airport Products and solutions including the implementation of Innovative solutions to improve operations, customer service and user experience. In addition, Mike led the Aviation Industry in delivering the worldwide change management program for Bar Coded Boarding passes as well as managing and initiating changes to improve the messaging standards for the Airlines. His current focus is on helping Airports define, implement and benefit from the digital transformation within the aviation domain. email: firstname.lastname@example.org phone: +1 631 215 7662