Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JIA Rips out $15 Million Baggage System for Newer One; Current Setup Was Rushed after 9/11; New One More Efficient

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JIA Rips out $15 Million Baggage System for Newer One; Current Setup Was Rushed after 9/11; New One More Efficient

Article excerpt

Byline: TIMOTHY J. GIBBONS

In the bowels of Jacksonville International Airport, 1.16 miles of conveyor belt carry bags through a cramped room, transporting the luggage through scanning machines and into the hands of security personnel.

That $15 million scanning system was installed four years ago, and over the next six months, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority will rip up the nearly new system and spend about $18 million to install a new system under the mezzanine area where travelers check in.

The project will be paid for out of the JAA's capital budget, with money coming from a bond issue.

The new setup will replace what was one of the first systems in the nation where bags could be scanned while being transported to the airplanes rather than passengers hauling bags to giant scanners as they check in. Being in the front of the pack and having to deal with the chaos of federal regulations still being written during installation led the Jacksonville Aviation Authority to install a system that has had trouble getting bags to airplanes on time and has required an increased number of employees to keep things going smoothly. The system consists of a maze of conveyor belts and scanners, where problems such as luggage tumbling down conveyer ramps occur.

Earlier this year, for example, US Airways complained that more than two dozen bags took an hour to go through the baggage screening process so that luggage missed the flight it should have been on.

The original system was installed quickly: The airport was in the midst of expanding its baggage area when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, and executives decided to combine the scanning project with that work rather than halt the expansion and delay the installation. JIA was also facing a Dec. 31, 2002, federal deadline -- it was the only airport in the country to meet it -- to have all checked baggage scanned, either behind the scenes or in the lobby.

When it started on the project, the airport expected to use a system similar to one used by the airport in Manchester, England, which has been screening bags for about a decade, said JAA Chief Administration Officer Chip Snowden.

In the months after Sept. 11, Authority Executive Director John Clark and Snowden visited that airport to inspect how it did in-line screening, which means scanning bags as they are transported from the check-in desk to the airplane.

In-line screening is better for everyone, said Christopher White, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration. "The system gives customers pre-Sept. 11 convenience and gives TSA and the airport post-Sept. 11 security," White said.

But even though the TSA likes in-line screening, it didn't like the Manchester method of doing it, which forced the Aviation Authority to change its plans on the fly, making the system a tight fit in the space allocated for it and cutting down on how quickly bags could get through the process, leading to congestion. …

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