When should ICS technology be considered a business case for baggage handling?

When it comes to considering which baggage handling system to implement, an airport may be thinking of a number of factors: price, footprint, proven technology and so on. But it really comes down to figuring out the paramount strategy the airport is aiming to achieve and the BHS solution that best suits it. 


We talked with baggage handling consultant, Blair Cox of JSM & Associates, about how an airport can identify whether a business case can be made for implementing the Individual Carrier System (ICS) technology for its baggage handling.

Zeroing in on the airport’s touchpoint

Whether an airport is in the master planning stage, looking ahead five or six years, or putting into place plans for an expansion project, in determining which BHS to implement, it needs to consider its overall business strategy and what it is trying to sell its clients.

According to Mr Cox:

“Airports need to identify what their needs are and then build structures for those needs. This will result in vastly different approaches and rationales for choosing a technology and that is the critical piece.”

Some airports around the world, Cox explains, will pay significantly higher energy costs than other airports. So for these airports, energy savings will be of primary importance.

Others’ strategy will include a significant sustainability drive and they will want to be able to sell their airports as green and less environmentally harmful in its carbon emissions. For this type of airport, a baggage handling operation that has less impact on the environment will be the overriding consideration.

Then again, for other airports, the ability to meet ECAC Standard 3 and TSA requirements for 100% baggage tracking has to be prioritised.


Meanwhile, says Cox, the overarching imperative of other airports’ strategy will be more operational in nature. Which BHS will improve baggage handling performance? He states:

“An airport experiencing customer complaints that their baggage is taking up to 45 minutes to be offloaded onto the carousel, will be first and foremost looking for a system that can bring inbound luggage faster to the passenger, for example.”

And for the regional airport without resident maintenance personnel, a BHS that can deliver less downtime will be their foremost consideration.

In order to work out which baggage handling system would work best, Cox emphasizes, an airport needs to first identify its primary touchpoint.

Is ICS a solution to the airport’s touchpoint?

Once an airport has ascertained the needs it wants to address, it can then consider the features of different BHS solutions and which system best addresses them.

When it comes to ICS technology and how it can fit the different strategies or ambitions an airport may have, Cox notes the following:

  • Energy savings: ICS technology consumes less energy than traditional conveyor systems and it was for this reason that SFO chose its ICS-based BHS. It configured a system that could handle both inbound and outbound baggage, the idea being to minimise the number of dolly movements and therefore reduce air pollution.
  • Baggage claim: ICS opens the door to bringing inbound luggage in faster, being able to better meet customer expectations and improve the customer experience. Cox comments: “It’s free because the system works to bring the carriers back in any event, so it may as well be deployed for conveying inbound luggage.”
  • 100% tracking: To Cox, being able to deliver 100% baggage tracking, is the coup de grâce of the ICS technology. Placing a bag in its individual carrier where it remains throughout the entire baggage handling process renders lost or short-shipped baggage virtually non-existent, a problem conveyor systems just cannot solve. Moreover, says Cox, ICS also enables the possibility of enhancing the customer experience by picking up a bag from the customer’s door and ensuring it is delivered to the right location, irrespective of the airline.
  • Ease of maintenance: ICS technology involves less maintenance staff and spare parts and contributes to a lower Total Cost of Ownership. Fewer system jams and lost baggage also mean airports experience less downtime with an ICS system. The simplified design of the ICS and its use of common components across different elements of the system also result in fewer maintenance needs and lower spare part consumption.
  • Smaller footprint: The ICS can occupy a smaller footprint than conveyor systems, say Cox, because there are fewer conveyors needed for Level 2 and Level 3 screening. Additionally, airports can make better use of feeding the EDS machines to further shrink that footprint, Cox adds.
  • Streamlining TSA processes: With ICS, an airport requires far fewer bag inspection stations, freeing up valuable real estate for other purposes.
  • Inbound sortation: Many airports have tried to achieve inbound sortation with baggage conveyors and have failed every time, Cox notes. But with ICS technology, inbound sortation is a reality.

The cost of ICS technology

It’s often said that the price of ICS technology is too high and its deployment too great an investment.

But in Cox’s opinion, there are very few instances where an airport wouldn’t benefit from an ICS-based BHS, or where the benefits do not justify the investment. He says:

“I see ICS as being a better approach simply because it’s solving more challenges. That’s why you’re paying a little bit more for ICS – you’re getting more. It does more things, it provides more content, it provides more benefits. If the Total Cost of Ownership is lower as it is with ICS, why wouldn’t you make the investment?”

Cox makes an analogy with iPhone technology. These devices cost substantially more than, say, the older flip phones that enable simple making and receiving of calls. But customers are prepared to pay the extra cost because clearly they can do so much more with an iPhone than an older model.

If an airport wants to be able to explore the full benefits of its BHS, why not pay for a technology that can help do just that?


Cox has no doubt that ICS is an effective and efficient BHS solution – it is proven technology that has been in service for 20 years around the globe. What’s relevant for him is whether it’s a solution that best fits an airport’s particular strategies. It is therefore a matter of identifying the overriding strategy the airport is aiming to achieve and whether ICS suits and furthers that strategy. If it does, an airport has every reason to make a business case for ICS as a solution for its baggage handling needs.

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