British Airways and Philips projects in world's first trials of 'smart label' technology to revolutionise airline baggage handling.


ISSN: 0263-2772

Article publication date: 1 March 2000




(2000), "British Airways and Philips projects in world's first trials of 'smart label' technology to revolutionise airline baggage handling.", Facilities, Vol. 18 No. 3/4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

British Airways and Philips projects in world's first trials of 'smart label' technology to revolutionise airline baggage handling.

British Airways and Philips projects in world's first trials of "smart label" technology to revolutionise airline baggage handling

Keywords: Airlines, Technology

British Airways and Philips Projects are under way with the world's first large-scale trials of disposable "smart label" tag technology designed to automatically identify airline luggage, speed up luggage handling, reduce missing baggage and increase security at airports throughout the world. The trials, which are being conducted at Heathrow, UK, follow the successful installation by Philips Projects of a passenger tracking system at Gatwick Airport that uses similar "smart tag" technology to help reduce flight delays on behalf of British Airways.

The Heathrow system uses Philips Semiconductors I.CODE radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to identify some 75,000 suitcases travelling with passengers from Munich and Manchester to London's Heathrow airport. In addition, the data on smart labels can be reprogrammed, or added to, without the need to print and attach a new label. This means, for example, that new travel details can be easily added.

The "smart label" system has many advantages over conventional barcodes which require "line of sight" to the scanner and can result in up to 50 per cent of the baggage being manually handled to route it to the correct aircraft. Unlike barcodes, "smart labels" use radio frequency to communicate and therefore can be read at any angle or orientation. They can be scanned from over one metre away and the technology allows several smart labels to be scanned simultaneously, speeding up the baggage handling process.

The Gatwick system uses similar Philips RFID "smart card" technology in conjunction with boarding cards. Antennae mounted at key locations allow the airline to determine if passengers have arrived at the terminal, the aim being to reduce flight delays caused by passengers not turning up on time. Reaction from passengers has been described as "very positive". According to Pat Gaffey, general manager in airline operations, British Airways, "Using new technology to increase customer service, particularly at congested European airports, is a key focus - and we believe this is one of several areas where we are breaking new ground. The trial is not just about proving the technology out of the lab, but about understanding our customers and staff reaction as increasingly the use of technology is designed as part of our product."

For the Heathrow system, Philips provided "smart bag tags" each containing a Philips I-CODE integrated circuit (IC), that can be programmed during check-in with detailed information such as the date and time the luggage is checked in, the weight, as well as a unique identification number and the passenger's destination. The I.CODE IC is so thin and small it can be placed between two layers of paper, inside the baggage tag currently used by airlines. The IC is attached to a tiny antenna, also inside the label, and communicates with a scanner by radio signals, from a distance of up to 1.2 metres away. No battery is required inside the label as the I.CODE chip is powered by the radio signal from the scanner.

British Airways is inviting other major airlines to visit the installation and the results will be presented to IATA, the International Air Transport Association. Other applications for the smart label technology include tagging high value merchandise in retail, parcel-tracking for express delivery services and tagging books in libraries.

With the world's air traffic growing at a rate of more than 6 per cent each year, fast and accurate baggage identification and handling are vital. In addition, airline security standards mean that luggage must be positively identified and matched to a passenger on-board the aircraft before the flight can leave. This procedure can lead to flight delays if baggage cannot be immediately linked with a passenger.

Based in Cambridge, Philips Projects is working in many other developments linked to smart card and RFID linked to technology involving access control, CCTV, security, display systems and sound and communi-cations systems. Philips Projects has a wealth of experience in the design, systems integration, installation, and maintenance of large and complex projects for both public and private sector applications. The company's experience covers single and multi-technology systems for airports, railway stations, traffic and transport systems, stadia; city centres, shopping centres, hospitals and many other applications.

Further news on Philips is available on the Web at:

Further news on Philips Projects is available at:

For further information, please contact: Neal Entwistle at Philips Projects, Cromwell Road, Cambridge CB1 3HE. Tel: +44 (0) 1223 245191; Fax: +44 (0) 1223 413551 or 214413.

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