Bag’s-eye view of Changi Airport

Report and pictures by: 
Benjamin Seetor

It is by no sheer good fortune that the baggage handling system at Singapore’s Changi Airport is consistently rated among the world’s best. Costing $140 million to install, the high-tech system at Terminal 3 can handle 10,400 bags per hour.

Amazingly, it is run by just two operators and one supervisor in the control room. Another 13 employees are stationed at various points in the system and they remain in constant contact with the control room through walkie-talkies.When a traveller checks his bags in at the counter, an agent will tag each piece of check-in baggage.

A Baggage Source Message (BSM) is generated by the check-in transaction and transmitted to the baggage handling system. The bag is moved from the check-in conveyor belt onto the take-away conveyor. As the bags move into the automated baggage sorting system, laser scanners will read the barcode on the tag. 

At the same time, X-ray machines within the system will screen the bags for security purposes. The barcode on the bag tag will tell the operators which flight the baggage is meant for and the bag will be delivered to the assigned chute for the flight. Baggage handlers waiting at the end of the discharge chutes collect the bags and place them in containers that are sent to the aircraft when full.

It takes just six minutes for a bag to go from the check-in counter to being loaded into the container that will take it to the plane.

Currently, the system handles an average of 18,000 bags on weekdays and 21,000 bags on weekends. Apart from being highly efficient, the system, which started rolling in January 2008 at Terminal 3, is also designed to conserve energy.

When conveyor lines are idle, they stop automatically after 10 to 15 minutes. Bag transfers between terminals happens through a 13km-long Inter-Terminal Transfer Baggage System. Using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, each bag is sorted by the system which routes the bag to its destination.

The article related to these pictures was first published in The New Paper on May 27, 2013.