The global deployment of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is back on the agenda for airlines and airports around the globe.

The business case is compelling: the rollout of RFID, which can accurately track passengers’ baggage in real-time across key points in the journey, holds the potential to save the air transport industry more than US$3 billion over the next seven years to 2022.

25% less loss

Research by SITA and IATA reveals that the highly accurate tracking rates of RFID technology could reduce the number of mishandled bags by up to 25% over the next seven years. That’s good news passengers and the industry alike.

“The success of tracking bags lies in deploying the right technology and infrastructure, that need to be robust, affordable and above all accurate,” says Peter Drummond, Head of Baggage at SITA.

“RFID can represent a great opportunity to meet these expectations by improving the performance of bag handling at the different stages of the bag journey.”

Going global

Airlines globally have begun to rollout out RFID tracking. Prominent among them, Delta Air Lines has begun to roll RFID across 344 stations to manage more than 120-million bags every year.

In particular, RFID will address mishandling during transfer from one flight to another, one of the key areas identified by SITA and IATA where the technology could help improve baggage handling rates.

RFID technology will ensure that airports, airlines and ground handlers are able to keep track of bags at every step of the journey and ensuring the right bag is loaded onto the correct flight.

RFID or barcodes?

“Introducing RFID has a distinct advantage over barcodes, in that it allows information to be read outside of the baggage system, and ground handlers can be notified and take proactive action to put bags back on course for their intended flights,” says Drummond.

“This is a particular advantage for bags that are being transferred from one flight to another, an area where mishandling remains an issue.”

Resolution 753

The technology also supports IATA’s Resolution 753 that requires by 2018 airlines keep track of every item of baggage from start to finish.

The deployment of RFID would build on the already significant savings delivered by the smart use of technology for baggage management. 

According to the SITA Baggage Report 2016, technology has helped reduce the number of mishandled bags by 50% from a record 46.9 million mishandled bags in 2007, saving the industry US$ 22.4 billion. This improvement comes despite a sharp rise in passenger numbers over the same period.

Brink of a revolution

“The airline industry is at the brink of a revolution in baggage tracking. Deploying RFID globally will increase accuracy and reduce mishandling rates,” says Jim Peters, Chief Technology Officer at SITA.

“This is a win-win situation – passengers will be happier, operations will run smoother and airlines will save billions of dollars.”

The industry first started looking at the viability of RFID almost a decade ago but the cost was prohibitive. However, the technology has now advanced substantially helping bring the cost to a level that has many airlines interested.

Business case

The SITA/IATA business case shows that the improvements in handling rates do not come at a great cost. RFID capabilities can be deployed for as little US$0.1 per passenger on average while generating expected savings of more than US$0.2 per passenger.

With some big airlines and airports already introducing RFID technology, combined with the fact that it is compatible with existing barcode technology, adoption of RFID across all airports could provide a positive return for airlines, both in cost savings and passenger satisfaction.

Revisiting RFID

Andrew Price, Head of Airport Operations at IATA, says: “Over the past few years we have seen more airlines introduce and reap the benefits of RFID technology through better oversight of their baggage operations.

“The advances in the technology and the immense benefits it brings to the airline industry has prompted IATA to revisit and fully explore the benefits of RFID today.”

SITA’s and IATA's assumptions are based on RFID being deployed in 722 airports (representing 95% of passenger numbers globally) 2016 and 2021.The figures for 2016 take into account the RFID infrastructure already deployed or about to be deployed at multiple induction points on the baggage journey.

In the coming months SITA will further explore the benefits of RFID, working with various partners to trial RFID technologies in several locations around the world.