Debbie Norton from the Napier Partnership looks at the baggage system chosen for Calgary’s International Facilities Project.
Calgary International Airport in the province of Alberta, Canada, traces its roots back to 1914. Situated in Bowness, about 6 miles (10km) from the city, the original airfield comprised a grass airstrip and a basic hut, which doubled as a hangar and terminal building. Both the city and the airport have expanded considerably since those early days, with the former now having a population of just over a million and the latter forecast to serve 13.4 million passengers in 2012 – the result of over 50% growth in the past decade. This performance puts Calgary Airport firmly into fourth place in Canada, behind Toronto (32 million in 2011), Vancouver (17 million) and Montreal (13.6 million).
Bruce McFarlane, the airport’s Director of Air Terminal Development, explains the reasons for this growth: “The economy in Alberta is very strong – more so than in any other region in Canada – and we have the lowest unemployment in the country. Another factor is we have the second highest number of corporate head offices in Canada after Toronto. A third reason is that people here just love to travel, whether for business or pleasure. In terms of airport passenger numbers per capita of the local population, Calgary Airport is far above any other facility in Canada. Our primary business is domestic – the airport is a domestic hub for Air Canada and WestJet – but we also serve 38 non-stop destinations worldwide.”
The Calgary Airport Authority has invested over C$1 billion (US$1.01bn) since 1992 to renovate and expand airport infrastructure. And now that the airport is approaching its design capacity, a further C$3 billion (US$3.03bn) investment is currently planned over the next ten years to meet growth forecasts. One of the most important of these capital improvements is the International Facilities Project (IFP), which will be the single largest expansion the airport authority has undertaken. Construction began in April 2011 and is scheduled for completion in the second quarter of 2015, with operations due to commence in the fourth quarter.
As with any new terminal, one of the key ingredients is a fast, reliable and energy-efficient baggage handling system. The airport says it went to considerable lengths to ensure that the system would fulfil its precise requirements, as Mr McFarlane explains.
“We thought about continuing with a conventional conveyor system, as we have in our two current terminals, but it was deemed to be too expensive and slow. We also looked at destination coded vehicles and tilt-tray sortation, but that would have been an interim solution – it wouldn’t really add anything. We did a lot of research, visited a large number of airports and talked to many airport operators about what they considered the best system and what was costing them the least to maintain and operate. We also had specific requirements in terms of accuracy, tracking of bags, speed of distribution and the ability to run oversized bags on the same system. The result of our investigations was a firm belief that the answer lay in a tote tray system.
“Once we determined that we wanted a tote tray system, our baggage consultant drew up a basic design based on numbers and required performance. We knew what our needed capacity was going to be in the future and how many bags we had to handle through various check points. We knew what kind of accuracy we wanted out of the sortation system, especially with all the security and explosive detection systems we have these days. We also had to be able to track bags and tie the system in to the BIWIS [Baggage, Image and Weight and Information System] for US border protection.
“We took this basic design and system requirements to four pre-qualified baggage handling suppliers who said they could do a tote tray system, for a design build proposal. That took around six months, during which time one of the candidates dropped out because they realised they couldn’t provide the system we needed, and another followed suit soon after. With the final two companies we went through a lot of clarification and modifications, just to be fair and make sure we were comparing ‘apples with apples’, and in the long run Crisplant came up with the better solution with its CrisBag system.”
Tote tray technology is little known in North America at the moment, though it is in common use throughout Europe and all through Asia. Indeed this installation will be the first CrisBag installation on the continent. This caused a slight difficulty with integrating the BHS into the screening system, because the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) has no experience with totes and the EDS machines that it and the US TSA use are not capable of handling them. A simple workaround was to have the bags automatically off-loaded onto a conventional belt when the tote tray gets up to the CTX machine, and similarly loaded back onto the tote once the bag has passed through the machine and been cleared.
“It’s not such a big deal,” says Mr McFarlane, “but it would be nicer if we could just send the totes straight through as it does take out some capacity. Once North American airports really start to push on tote tray technology the TSA and CATSA will get on board.”
The airport’s current North and Central terminals each have their own baggage handling systems that are conventional slider-bed conveyors and have power diverters for sortation to the make-up devices. These two systems are not connected, but they are both linked to a third system, which is for outbound transborder baggage. That is also a conventional conveyor system.
In a phased implementation the new IFP baggage system will be connected for transfer bags to the North and Central systems. Eventually the airport will build an entire ‘backbone’, an interconnected baggage system, so that any bag coming from any point can go to any destination.
“These two systems will be integrated with the IFP’s tote-tray technology in the future in order to be able to feed the out-bound systems and take the transfer bags back and forth,” says Mr McFarlane. “Crisplant’s system makes the integration fairly easy, because where the systems meet, the conventional conveyor is on the top and the tote comes up below it and the bag literally travels off the end of the conventional conveyor and drops into the tote.”
Crisplant is also supplying the IFP’s inbound baggage and this system is interesting in that these bags will actually be sorted. All the bags will go from aircraft onto load belts and scanned into the system. Once in the inbound sortation system, which is also tote based – in fact the totes are shared with the outbound system – the control software can direct each bag to the correct carousel and send transfer bags on to a connecting flight. “An inbound sortation system like this is largely unknown in North America,” says Mr McFarlane.
Calgary Airport is well known for its energy conservation practices and in fact in March 2008 it became the first airport in Canada to be recognised for its environmental best practices by the Building Owners and Managers Association Canada, receiving GoGreen Certification. CrisBag’s low energy consumption therefore made a good impression with Mr McFarlane: “It has one of the lowest operating costs of any system. The main reason is that the belt modules are relatively short at only about three metres and the belts themselves are just ten centimetres wide, so the drive motors don’t need to be very powerful.”
A further energy-saving feature of the system is Crisplant’s unique start/stop technology, made possible because each belt module has independent control. The control system looks upstream in the system to see if another bag is approaching and, if not, it simply shuts off the belts on the individual modules. Only when a bag is approaching are the belts turned on again. As well as saving power, this feature also reduces general wear and tear. Since each component is in operation for less time, less preventive maintenance is needed, thus saving costs in terms of hours and spare parts.
Having a great baggage handling system is all very well, but it’s the team behind it that really makes it work. Mr McFarlane comments: “We implement these very large projects by building high-performance teams in which everybody collaborates with everybody else, and we come to common solutions. Crisplant fits into that mould more than any other baggage company. Engineers come over from Denmark at least once a month and during the design stages they actually had someone living here. Once we start installing in June 2013, Crisplant staff will be on-site full time here in Calgary. They’re real team players and real collaborators.”
Baggage handling implementation starts in June 2013 and will be finished in April 2015. There will then be a six-month test period for the terminal before it opens for operations in the fourth quarter of 2015.
BHS facts & figures
|Tote system length||5 miles (8km)|
|Conveyor system length||1.25 miles (2km)|
|Number of motors||4,900|
|Number of regular-gauge totes||1,100|
|Number of out-of-gauge totes||140|
|Maximum outbound flow||4,316 bags|
|Maximum inbound flow||3,826 bags|
|Average outbound time in BHS||5 min 20 sec|
|Average inbound time in BHS||4 min 38 sec|