In the Summer of 2017 Air France and the Parisian airport authority were working hard to address the challenges of baggage handling for the carrier at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris (CDG). A massive construction project was underway beneath the terminals, revamping the sorting system for bags. At the time the ultimate goal was shorter connections for transfer passengers. But another benefit from the work will soon arise: Air France is poised to implement RFID tracking on all checked bags. Some eight million bags annually are expected to carry the updated tags beginning in 2020.
The process will launch with the Air France operations at Terminal 2 in Charles de Gaulle airport. It will expand throughout the carrier’s global operations, as well as to the Terminal 1 operations at CDG. The latter effort allows the airport to also perform better with respect to baggage tracking, enabling its airline customers to pursue similar efforts more easily, at least in one airport.
Air France and Paris Aéroport have a common challenge in terms of customer satisfaction and the smooth running of our operations. With more than 50 million customers carried on board our flights each year, RFID technology provides us with an innovative solution to improve the tracking and identification of baggage, guarantee its transit under optimal safety and security conditions, reduce our costs and improve our operational performance by reducing the time it takes to find missing items.– Alain-Hervé Bernard, Chief Operating Officer at Air France
Air France is not the first carrier to go all-in on RFID bag tracking, though it is still at the forefront of the market. Partner Delta Air Lines made a similar move in 2016, investing $50mm in a global RFID infrastructure. The carrier reported a quick return on that investment. Fewer bags were mishandled or misrouted. Passengers were happier and the exception handling costs – delivering delayed bags or compensating passengers – dropped sharply. Undoubtedly Delta’s experience on this front will help its joint venture and equity ownership partner as the implementation progresses.
An industry-wide RFID push
But even with Delta’s demonstrated benefits of the upgrades the industry showed itself slow to engage. In 2018 the International Air Transport Association (IATA) floated a proposal to see 80% of passenger journeys covered with RFID bag tracking by 2022. This would extend the goal of pervasive and common tracking capabilities mandated by IATA Resolution 753. That concept was endorsed at the IATA Annual General Meeting in 2019 with unanimous support from the member airlines, though also a lack of concrete obligations
IATA identified 74 airports that will need to update their technology to support the RFID goal. Fortunately, such upgrades can generally be installed on top of the existing infrastructure rather than requiring a full replacement. Indeed, IATA notes that the RFID systems can bring a 10-20% improvement in capacity throughput for existing airport sort systems. This proves an inexpensive way to manage the anticipated growth in global traveler numbers, at least initially.
The use of RFID technology improves the processing of checked baggage by reducing handling and transfer times, optimizing capacity and significantly facilitating baggage tracking. This technology is a must in our aim to be one of the best airports in the world for baggage handling.– Marc Houalla, Managing Director of Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport
The IATA resolution commits airlines to use RFID-enabled bag tags, still showing the barcodes for backwards compatibility. Airports and ground handling companies are similarly encouraged to upgrade their systems, though IATA does not manage those relationships as directly. Also, the RFID resolution does not mandate timelines; in many ways this means participation is still voluntary.
The RFID transition is not without cost. Bag tags printed with the RFID circuit inside are a only few cents more expensive than those without. With millions of tags involved that adds up to real money in a hurry. The scanners cost a couple thousand dollars each, with thousands needed across a global footprint. But as individual airports and airlines make the investments early it becomes easier for others to follow in their footsteps. Costs decrease as volume goes up. Project plans are easier to mimic as more successful examples are produced, easing the implementations.
And maybe, just maybe, more airlines will choose to invest their profits in such operational improvements rather than just share buybacks. The long-term value is real, the carriers, for their passengers, and for their investors
More from the IATA AGM 2019
- Star Alliance pulls back on Diamond tier plans
- Thai Smile to join Star Alliance as connecting partner
- Korean Air plans interior overhaul, inflight connectivity service
- Investment & Innovation: KLM’s sustainability initiatives
- Air France goes all-in on RFID bag tracking
- A Hong Kong Surprise: PaxEx Update (16 August 2019)