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The benefits of RFID

Published on  23 February by Caroline Camilli-Gay , Program Manager, SITA Lab
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After a hiatus of more than a decade, the development and deployment of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to track bags is once again well under way. This is a technology that both SITA and IATA strongly support.

Sparking this revival is the real benefit that RFID delivers in terms of further reducing the number of mishandled bags and keeping passengers informed on where their bags are every step of the way. It is these benefits that prompted major US carrier Delta Air Lines’ decision last year to introduce the technology across 84 airports in the US, catching the industry and the average passenger’s attention. Anything that can tangibly reduce the number of mishandled bags is in everyone’s interest. 

Delta has already experienced a 99.9% accurate read rate for tracking bags across its stations equipped with RFID, an unparalleled figure that is helping them further reduce the number of mishandled bags. 

But what has prompted this change of heart over the past decade since the industry dismissed the technology as a non-starter?

Back in 2007 the International Air Transport Association (IATA) issued a business case that was cash positive for RFID being used in baggage handling. However, this looked solely at savings based on read efficiency in sortation and was a little ahead of its time. While RFID will help you perform better, real improvement comes from an efficient baggage operation with RFID providing the information to support the decisions to drive this operation. This had yet to be addressed.

Since then there have been a number of activities that has brought about the reduction in the mishandled baggage rate over the past decade. It has been primarily the adoption of baggage reconciliation systems and additional tracking systems that read barcode – together with improvements in operational processes and IT system integration – that have brought about this improvement.

A decade on, and our industry is near the point where all the gains without a major change in how we think about baggage have been made. The big change in thinking is that of moving to a proactive approach to baggage handling supported by accurate tracking data. This is where RFID will help.

Improvement in tracking data is the next logical step and is framed in the requirements of IATA’s Resolution 753 which requires the tracking of every bag at key points along the journey by June 2018.

Last year SITA and IATA published an updated business case that showed that global deployment of RFID technology, which can accurately track passengers’ baggage in real time across key points in the journey, has the potential to save the air transport industry more than US$3 billion by 2022. Our research shows that the highly accurate tracking rates of RFID technology could reduce the number of mishandled bags by up to 25%, delivering a massive cost saving to airlines and ground handlers.

And it is particularly effective during transfer, where one airline hands off a bag to another. RFID can provide the detail of this transaction as required by Resolution 753, allowing a bag to be located before it is potentially mishandled.

Delta may be the first to use RFID but many others are likely to follow. SITA is working with key hub airports and airlines to demonstrate the capabilities of RFID tracking and facilitate its adoption across the air transport industry.

The benefits are too significant to ignore, including for airlines, airports and ultimately each one of their passengers who can be rest assured that their bag will arrive with them at their destination.

The author will be at Passenger Terminal Expo 2017 in Amsterdam to discuss the benefits of RFID and the roadmap to adoption.

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