Five-year upgrade doubles airport's baggage capacity

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 April, 2012, 12:00am


Baggage-handling capacity at Hong Kong International Airport has been doubled under a five-year project that cost HK$750 million.

The capacity has been increased from 8,000 pieces of luggage an hour to 16,000 thanks to improved use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) luggage tags and building nine kilometres of baggage-belt 'short cuts'. It will be able to meet expected demand before the third runway opens, said Daniel Wong Man-ho, the airport's technical services maintenance manager.

The RFID system reduces the chances of baggage mishandling by half compared with barcode labels, said technical services senior manager Paul Wu Wai-keung.

The barcode system had an effective reading rate for about 80 per cent of baggage, meaning 20 per cent - or 10,000 pieces of luggage a day - required hand-sorting. RFID's reading rate is 97 per cent.

Concerns that the RFID system, introduced in 2005, posed a health hazard to baggage staff because of radiation emissions have been alleviated by a number of university studies over the past few years.

RFID chips, a technology also used in Octopus cards, carry a baggage owner's information and make tracing much easier. For example, if a passenger who has already checked in suddenly realises he has medicine to take that he left in the suitcase, airport staff will be able to track down the luggage immediately, Wong said.

The Hong Kong R&D Centre for Logistics and Supply Chain Management Enabling Technologies, which developed the RFID technology for the airport, has also introduced an electronic locking system to enhance customs clearance services for cargo.

About 100,000 consignments pass through Hong Kong on cargo trucks to and from the mainland every day. The e-locking system, introduced in November, is now used by about 20 per cent of traffic, said Steve Chan Wai-chiu, Customs and Excise Department special duties staff officer.

The system automatically locks the cargo when it enters Hong Kong and unlocks it on departure. It can detect whether cargo has been illegally opened while in Hong Kong. The lock also uses the Global Positioning System.

It used to take two hours for customs clearance when a cargo item left Hong Kong. Now it only takes five minutes to check that the e-lock is in place, Chan said.