Is ICS technology a suitable BHS solution for all airports?

The Individual Carrier System (ICS) for baggage handling is finding its way into many airports around the world. In the United States, the technology has also been successfully installed at two airports and a third is currently underway. What potential does this baggage handling solution have for airports? 


BEUMER Group had the opportunity to talk to baggage handling consultant, Matthias Frenz, President at Logplan LLC, to discover what ICS technology offers and whether it is suited to all airports.

The case for airports choosing an ICS baggage handling solution

One of the primary reasons why ICS technology is lending itself to being an effective baggage handling solution, according to Frenz, is the pure growth of airports today. He explains:

“As airports around the world expand, travelling distances for both passengers and baggage increase. If an airport wants to continue providing a comfortable passenger experience, it needs to ensure faster transportation time within its systems.”

And this is one of the main advantages of ICS – it delivers faster transportation of baggage without losing tracking ability.

In fact, the key reason why Frankfurt International Airport first implemented ICS technology in 1972 was that this faster baggage transporting solution could meet its need to reduce transfer times. Similarly, Denver International Airport’s decision to implement its new ICS solution has been driven by the need for faster transportation in its baggage system’s long travelling distances.

The ICS solution can clearly meet these ambitions, Frenz states, but it also has many other advantages for the airport.

ICS solves many airport baggage handling challenges

According to Frenz, the ICS BHS is simply able to solve more of the challenges airports typically face.

Faster transportation times

As mentioned, if airports need their baggage loading to travel through their systems faster, ICS achieves that. Frenz explains:

“Achieving faster transportation on a belt system is possible and it has been done. But it’s problematic because you might lose the tracking information as the bags are moving more on the belt and changing their positions. ICS technology, on the other hand, provides the speed required with no reduction in baggage tracking.”

In addition, faster travel on the belt system requires bigger motors, Frenz says. And for some airports, larger motors are simply not an option due to space restrictions, or tight tunnels and rights of way

Reduction of lost baggage

Lost baggage is, of course, a cost for the airline. But according to Frenz, ICS provides such high sortation precision that lost baggage is all but non-existent:

“With the ICS, you put your bag into a bin or tray that is equipped with a defined RFID chip. The information in that chip can be read 100% every time so you always know where that bag is.”

Transfer hubs need this sortation accuracy if they don’t wish to lose bags. And common use terminals serving multiple airlines, says Frenz, also need it to ensure baggage is delivered to the correct airlines.

In conventional baggage handling systems, the chances of lost trunks and suitcases are greater due to mis-reads and this increases the greater the distance the baggage must travel. To prevent bags ending up in the wrong areas, missing their flights and having to travel long distances back, Frenz explains, airports must have staff resolving no-reads. With ICS, this is not necessary.

Automated storage systems

By placing bags in individual trays or bins, airports are also able to greatly improve their baggage storage systems.

In conventional belt-based systems, Frenz notes, bags are stored either in their final tug or in the makeup unit, requiring the early opening of makeup units.

ICS technology, however, enables airports to create automated storage systems from which bags, which remain in their individual trays or bins, can be retrieved automatically at any time. Frenz comments:

“If you want to entice your passengers to come to your airport early and spend money in your shopping facilities, then of course you need to allow for early bag check in and storage. For this, you need an automated storage system.”

Frenz sees further possibilities for ICS-enabled automated storage:

  • Robotic loading: For airports wishing to implement automated loading and batch building, automated storage will be important because robotic or other automated loading devices can be integrated with ICS.
  • Rebooking of flights: Automated storage makes it easier for passengers to re-book flights if they miss their connections or want to change their destinations because single bags sitting in their trays can be easily accessed and transferred to another flight. Conventional baggage handling systems require handlers to find the bag and move it to the new flight, with every chance it will miss the flight.

Reduction of footprint

With automated storage systems, says Frenz, airports can greatly improve the use of their makeup units and reduce the overall space required.

He cites London’s Heathrow Airport as an example, stating:

“Even though it occupies a very tight space, through a ‘compress build’, it’s able to store all bags destined for a particular flight in its automated storage, open up the makeup unit for a short, intense working period to handle that one flight and make it available for the next flight immediately afterwards.”

Generally, Frenz observes, makeup areas are just not the best storage place for bags.

Security screening

ICS technology also facilitates security screening processes for airports. At Denver International Airport, the entire baggage handling for screening purposes has been made easier. Frenz explains:

“The system in Denver collects the ‘alarmed’ bags from different screening zones and transports them all to one, centralised area where the TSA conducts its intensified investigation. The bags are then transported back to the respective airlines.”

TSA personnel no longer have to transport and lift bags, carry them over aisles and put them down again. After the bag passes through the x-ray machines at the different TSA Checked Baggage Inspection Areas (CBIS), a cart-based system brings TSA alarmed bags into a new centralized CBRA inspection area, one bag per cart with 100% tracking, where the TSA conducts its intensified investigation. In a matter of minutes, cleared bags can move on to the respective airlines for make-up and departure.

Copyright: “Image from local news channel “Denver 7”

Furthermore, continues Frenz:

“Because ICS has high sortation accuracy, we can actually mix ‘good’ and ‘suspicious’ bags on one line. That’s something not allowed in a conventional system because you never know if a suspicious bag will somehow make it onto the makeup unit.”

ICS: The often-asked questions

In addition to outlining why he believes ICS technology is a potential solution for many airports, Frenz also addressed some oft-asked questions in an effort to help airports determine whether ICS is an effective solution to meet their baggage handling requirements.

Does ICS benefit common-use airports more?

According to Frenz, airports with different terminals for different airlines will not gain the full benefits of ICS, although they will, of course, profit from the high sortation accuracy and the speed of delivery.

For common use situations, such as international airports with multiple carriers, ICS technology is significantly beneficial, with sortation precision and the sharing of screening facilities. It is one of the reasons, Frenz says, why the implementation of ICS in Los Angeles has been so successful.

For any airport looking to make greater use of its real estate through shared facilities, ICS is a cost-effective solution.

Is ICS a solution only for airports with straight connections?

Frenz notes that ICS technology is often perceived as being useful for straight-connection airports only.

However, in his opinion, there are many potential uses of an automated inbound system, from which all airports can benefit. He states:

  • A transfer hub without heavy incoming baggage loads can use its ICS for inbound transportation. Munich Airport, for example, which has a tunnel to the concourse, has been able to use its ICS for inbound transport.
  • Airports can offer a very cost-efficient solution to their incoming passengers requesting point to point deliveries by loading baggage on their inbound lines, making good use of both the space and moving carts.
  • Airports can introduce sortation into their inbound streams, in which situations and destinations are prioritised, such as when passengers at check-in indicate baggage delivery preferences.

Is ICS suited to all airports?

Frenz emphasises, however, that different solutions will work for different airport scenarios and the ICS is not necessarily the best fit for all airports. There needs to be the right application for ICS and not all applications will justify the investment. Investing in ICS has to be proved through a business case every time, involving a thorough evaluation of the costs of each of its advantages.


Frenz believes that the ICS delivers a more reliable and predictable baggage handling operation overall simply because the airport knows exactly where the bag is. This in itself gives the airport significantly greater control over its entire processes. If an airport embraces ICS as a logistical tool to enhance its infrastructure and increase its competitiveness, says Frenz, then it will succeed in gaining a very cost-effective solution with a great many advantages. That being said, ICS will not be for every airport.  Whether ICS is the right solution for an airport must be determined from a business case that evaluates the long-term impact of the investment.

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