Las Vegas airport implements RFID bag-tag system

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is implementing a baggage-tracking system that will use radio frequency...

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is implementing a baggage-tracking system that will use radio frequency identification bag tags from Matrics to improve customer safety.

The decision to implement the tracking system makes McCarran one of the first airports to use the RFID technology airportwide.  As part of the deal, Matrics will supply the airport with 100 million passive, nonbattery, disposable 900-MHz RFID tags over a five-year period for $25m. 

The entire project is expected to cost $125m, with $94m of that amount being paid for by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The airport will pick up the rest of the cost. 

The TSA is partially funding similar projects at other airports, including Denver International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. Florida's Jacksonville International Airport has already implemented an airportwide in-line screening system for checked baggage but has only partially implemented an RFID tracking system. 

The first phase of McCarran's new system, expected to be operational in May, will  track all checked-in passenger bags automatically through in-line explosive detection and screening equipment.

This phase will include use of a facility that screens off-site baggage coming from hotels and car rental companies, as well as two other screening facilities to handle baggage checked in at the airport's main terminal. It will involve five airlines and around 40% of airport travelers. 

The process starts at the check-in desk, where a baggage tag with an RFID chip and antenna imbedded in it will be printed out and attached to each bag. Each tag will carry a unique identifier and will be read while the bag is transported on conveyors through the appropriate explosive-screening machine and onto the plane. If the bag fails to clear the explosive-screening machine, it will be sent to a special facility to be checked by hand. 

Information from the tags is passed to FKI Logistex's software controls.  

The tags are claimed to be 99.8% accurate and can be tracked from a distance of up to 30 feet. Barcode tags now commonly used must be in close proximity to a reader. 

Gene Alvarez, an analyst at Meta Group, believed the RFID technology will work its way into more and more airports, not just for security but as a way to match bags with passengers and reduce delays.

Linda Rosencrance writes for Computerworld

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