Delta begins second RFID bag tag test

Delta Air Lines will start its second test of RFID technology to track bags in the hope of improving accuracy over the 96.7% to...

Delta Air Lines will start its second test of RFID technology to track bags in the hope of improving accuracy over the 96.7% to 99.9% it achieved in a test last year. 

Pat Rary, manager for baggage planning and development at Delta, said the company plans to test every bag checked in on its Atlanta route during the 30-day test.

Delta will use 20,000 RFID tags from Alien Technology and another 20,000 tags from Matrics. The tags operate at a frequency of 915 MHz, the same frequency that Wal-Mart Stores plans to use in its supply chain. 

Delta will write information to the RFID bag tags at the request of the Transportation Security Administration, which has backed both tests, Rary said. That information will include the flight number, passenger name and what Rary called a "licence plate" - a serial number that identifies each bag. 

In the first test, Delta had its lowest tag-read accuracy on metal containers the bags are placed in for loading into an aircraft. Delta hoped to achieve higher accuracy by more careful placement of the bags in the containers. Bag handlers have been instructed to ensure that the tags do not touch the metal sides of the containers. 

He believed this could improve accuracy over the first test, when the metal skin of the containers interfered with signals from the reader antennas mounted on the wheeled lifts used to load the containers on airplanes. 

RFID bag tracking offers a "significant ROI" for Delta, Rary said, as the airline spends "tens of millions of dollars" in locating 800,000 misdirected bags a year. Delta handles 70 million pieces of luggage every year. 

Installing RFID bag-tracking systems at all Delta locations to serve the airline's 7,000-plus daily flights remains a very expensive proposition, he said, and the airline has no plans to launch it systemwide. 

Anthony Cerino, communications security technology lead at the TSA, said international airlines such as Delta face a standards problem when they send RFID-tagged bags to international destinations. Different countries have approved different frequencies for RFID use, for example, Japan uses 955 MHz while the US tags operate at 915 MHz. 

Later this year TSA plans to test tags programmed at one frequency to see if they can be read at another frequency in the relatively narrow 900-MHz band. If these tests are successful, it would demonstrate "international interoperability", Cerino said.

Bob Brewin writes for Computerworld

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