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Heathrow’s baggage system

Baggage handling upgrades: BAA is spending over £1bn across all programmes to upgrade baggage handling infrastructure at Heathrow to deliver “every bag, with every customer, every time”.

By 2012 BAA wants to ensure every passenger is reunited with their luggage, regardless of which terminal or airline they use.

It will mean close co-operation with airlines and baggage handlers to share responsibility for the end-to-end baggage process. “BAA has a vision of every bag, with every customer, every time,” says BAA Heathrow baggage and flight connections project director Giles Price. “What we are trying to do is ensure that all facilities deliver the same level of functionality so no one airline has competitive advantage.”

The Heathrow baggage system upgrade includes replacing Terminal 3’s (T3’s) system, installing a new system for Heathrow East, refurbishing part of Terminal 1 (T1) and replacing the “sortation” systems (roundabouts that receive and discharge baggage) in Terminal 4 (T4).

Check-in desks will also be modified and all bag screening systems upgraded across the airport along with new handling systems for the new satellite terminal T5c. “By 2012 Heathrow will have the world’s largest integrated baggage system capable of handling 110M baggage items a year,” he says.

For Heathrow to be integrated, all of the terminals’ upgraded systems must be connected by some form of permanent structure. This now only exists between T1 and T4 – a tunnel, built in 1997, in which bags are put into a small cart running along rails.

BAA has procured a 5m diameter Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) and will now bore a tunnel linking T5, T3 and T1. “We will be able to send any bag from any terminal to any other via an automated system,” adds Price.

BAA will use new Destination Coded Vehicles (DCVs) – effectively a trolley system holding one item of baggage on a single carrier running speeds of up to 800m/min. “The TBM starts next year, with the new tunnel system accounting for 30% of total spend,” says Price.

BAA South East head of baggage delivery Mark Deacon will work with Price to deliver the new system over the next five years. “The main challenge is to deliver the programme without impacting negatively on airline operations,” says Deacon. “We will work with airline colleagues at every level to ensure we deal with all potential risks and look to create viable opportunities.”

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