With more than two years' experience operating the first all-airport in-line baggage screening system in the US under its belts, Jacksonville International is planning upgrades to the physical facility that will smooth the operation. Later on, the Jacksonville Airport Authority's executive director hopes to join the
authority's German partner in selling the baggage handling expertise they are gaining to other airports and airlines around the world.
With more than two years' experience operating the first all-airport in-line baggage screening system in the US under its belts, Jacksonville International is planning upgrades to the physical facility that will smooth the operation. Later on, the Jacksonville Airport Authority's executive director hopes to join the authority's German partner in selling the baggage handling expertise they are gaining to other airports and airlines around the world. JAX was the first US airport to meet the Dec. 31, 2002, deadline for 100% checked baggage screening with a fully automated integrated in-line system. Every item checked at the airport goes through one of five InVision CTX9000 EDS machines in a system designed, built and installed by FKI Logistics of Frederick, Md. The Transportation Security Administration, which picked Jacksonville for one of its five baggage screening pilot projects, oversees the screening and Fraport Ground Services USA Inc. operates and maintains the system. TSA paid for the EDS machines. The FKI segment cost about $8.5 million, according to JAX Director-Planning and Operations Robert Mollé, and the building and support infrastructure another $8.5 million. An AIP grant reimbursed the airport for half of its $17 million. In an integrated system, luggage moves on belts from all ticket counter and curb-check positions to a central intake and is directed automatically to the next available EDS scanner. John D. Clark III, executive director of the Jacksonville Airport Authority, says that before the authority decided on a design, it visited other airports around the world that use automated baggage inspection. Many had in-line systems but they weren't integrated, with each screening machine fed by a single baggage belt, "so a jam in the in-line will just destroy the system." In JAX's arrangement, "if one machine goes down we can still operate the system." The authority decided on the in-line design because "we just refused to put those huge x-ray machines in our lobby," Clark says. To meet the 12/31/02 deadline, the system was designed and built very quickly, says Airport Director Danette M. Bewley. "We had to fit it into an existing building, although we did build it out a little. This is an area that was confined, so the conveyor channels have a lot of elevation changes and tight turns." Each item put into the system gets a standard IATA barcode label. Bags from selected passengers also get an RFID tag that sends them to one EDS machine configured for Level 3 screening. Bags without the special RFID tag go into one of the four Level 1 InVisions. Each of those machines can check up to 540 bags per hr., with the entire system rated for a maximum throughput of 13,000 bags a dayconsiderably more than the airport's current rate. Cleared bags are sent on to the various airlines for bag makeup. TSA and Fraport personnel manage the process from a control room with TV screens showing all segments of the baggage system so they can respond quickly to problems. Items that fail the automated screening are diverted to a TSA hand-inspection room. While AE&T watched, two TSA agents opened and carefully inspected a guitar case and guitar and a large Styrofoam cooler filled with what Bewley guessed was freshly caught fish before sending them on to bag makeup. The turns and level changes in the system, along with the occasional barcode misread, create jams that must be cleared manually. "We get an 85% read rate on the barcodes, so quite a lot of bags are kicked out with their destinations unread," Bewley says. "We also had to teach the airlines how to put bags on the belts to prevent problemswheels up, handles and straps tucked in, that sort of thing." To deal with jams and misreads, the airport hired about 30 temporary workers, seven or eight per shift. These people "act as a human sifter . . . looking for things to keep the system from breaking down," she explains. But this temporary work crew had a high turnover rate so the airport looked to Fraport to take over the workforce. "Fraport hired these temps, gave them benefits and caps and shirts," and turnover has dropped. "It's costing the airport the sameabout $900,000 a yearbut we think there will be long-term gains with a stable workforce and more efficiency," she says. Bewley worked out the deal with Bernhard Jungbluth, president and CEO of Fraport Ground Services USA. Fraport has been working at the airport since last October under an agreement that runs until mid-2006, and it hopes to win contracts from JAX's airlines for handling services. "We offer services in consulting and ground handlingpassenger, cargo, mail and ramp," Jungbluth says. The company will seek business around the US. "Jacksonville is a showcase for us," he says. "It's a good size for us to learn about operating in a foreign environment with a different culture." Fraport is 100% owned by Frankfurt Group but is teamed with the Jacksonville Airport Authority, "our first US partner." The partnership grew out of a management exchange program the Frankfurt and Jacksonville airports established in 2000. The baggage inspection room has space to add two screening machines to accommodate future traffic. "We are now designing an expansion to the facility which will also eliminate some of the trouble spots," Bewley tells AE&T. "We hope to start on it soon and finish it in 18 months." She estimates the cost at $6-$8 million. This will be part of the next stage of the airport's terminal expansion program, which already has created a $30 million central security checkpoint and retail and services center in a section called the courtyardthe meeting point of the terminal's three concourses. At 5 p.m. on a Monday, there was virtually no wait to clear through the seven-lane checkpoint. The upcoming work will be an upgrade and expansion of a 1990 project that built new landside facilities for the 40-year-old terminal, Mollé explains. So far the authority has spent about $150 in the terminal area. Stage 3 will cost another $150 million and produce new A and C concourses. The current A and C and their loading bridges and other equipment "are well past their useful lives," Bewley points out. The replacement concourses will have 17 loading-bridge gates, giving the airport the same total of 32 gates, 25 with bridges, on the three concourses that it has now. A crossbar can be added later to the end of B for about 12 more gates, she says. This will provide terminal space for 8 million annual passengers. The airport's two runways are 10,000 ft. and 7,700 ft. long. It soon will start buying land for a third, east-west, runway, "but we won't start work on it until at least 2011," Bewley says. "We're nowhere near our runway capacity now." Last year JAX served just under 5 million passengers and Clark expects to top 5 million this year. Delta Air Lines is the dominant carrier with a 34% market share, followed closely by Southwest Airlines with 31.9%. American Airlines and US Airways each carry about 8% and a handful of other carriers account for the rest. The airport's 8,200 acres include hundreds of acres of undeveloped land that the authority intends to market for commercial uses. Last October it formed an Enterprise Division and hired several specialists to implement its goal of becoming financially self-sufficient "without having to rely on federal or state grants" within five years, Clark explains. "We need to diversify our revenue sources." This goal applies to the authority's three smaller airports as well as JAX. "The airport now gets less than 2% of its revenue from nonaeronautical sources not counting parking and rental cars," says Richard A. Rossi, Enterprise Division VP-real estate development. "We would like to raise that to 40%." Rosa Beckett, VP-strategic planning and consultative services, adds, "We're trying to do creative things with all the authority's airports." One idea being discussed is a fee-for-membership club/lounge in the JAX terminal for travelers without access to the Delta Crown Room, the only airline club at the airport. The authority owns the 200-room Clarion Hotel on its property. Clark looks to the Fraport partnership to build a business selling services to other airports and airlines. "We know the US better than they do," but Fraport can draw on the Frankfurt authority's long experience selling services around the world. "I think this is a very appropriate time to open these discussions," Clark says, noting that these are "tough financial times" for airlines. "Finding ways to help them I think also helps us. We want to do complete handling above and below the wing. Everything but fly the airplane." The airport authority's charter recently was amended to allow it to do business anywhere in the world, Clark points out: "It is definitely our intent to expand beyond our borders." But, he realizes, "That's going to take some time. We have to master our own backyard first. We have to get very, very good at this."