It was out with the old and in with the new last week at the Region of Waterloo International Airport.
Airport executives and personnel unveiled a newly installed outbound baggage system June 29, replacing the old system requiring passengers to carry their own checked bags to security.
The system provides a conveyor belt to carry passenger baggage, which takes it through security and onto a carousel in a warehouse area for airport staff to sort and then transport to the plane.
The system can handle about 400 bags of luggage an hour, said airport director Chris Wood. He estimates the old system could process about 100 to 150 bags each hour.
“The existing system was very passenger-driven,” he said. “Basically, you checked in your bag, and then you had to carry it through security yourself, and then it went through security a different way. So this is a much better customer experience where you basically get rid of your bag at check-in, and then you can just make your way to security yourself.
He says the upgrade is overdue.
“It’s needed. It was probably needed last summer,” he said. “We limped through last summer, but this summer is going to be even busier. So we definitely need it starting in, in July, a couple days. We’ll have five flights within a two-hour period starting in July.”
Wood says the automated system brings the Region of Waterloo International Airport in line with other Canadian airports, and that because it can handle so much more baggage per hour, it will help facilitate more flights.
“It brings us into equivalency with all the other major airports in the country. We’ve grown up and we’re now eligible for a system of this size and complexity and it’s been fantastic to work with everyone to get this project complete.”
Regional Chair Karen Redman reflected on the new system and its significance to the airport.
“It is truly incredible to think how far this airport has come in such a short time,” she said. “Not only does the entire expansion project increase convenience for passengers, it enables families and businesses to connect to cities across Canada and internationally. It also supports our growing aerospace and aviation center.”
Flair Airlines CEO Stephen Jones was also on hand last week to congratulate the region on the baggage system.
“You’re making things happen in the region. And so I think it’s a great example of the vision and courage that you sometimes need to make a difference,” he said.
Region staff purchased the system from a company called Alstef, which also built the system. It was designed by a company called NGSG.
The cost of the system and installation was four million dollars, which was part of the overall $44-million airport expansion budget approved by regional council, said Wood, noting it took about six months to install and there were no disruptions to passengers in that time.
The speeches made, Redman checked in the first ceremonial piece of luggage to be transported by the new system. She handed it to a staff member, who placed it on the conveyor belt, which delivered it to the warehouse where it was shuffled along a carousel where it would hypothetically be sorted and moved by airport staff.
Wood says the next major project he has planned for the airport is improving the customs process, including adding capacity to the customs primary inspection line in anticipation for more international flights in the winter.
“If you haven’t been to the airport in a long time, check it out. It’s vastly improved. The space has drastically improved. And we are very eager to have everybody give it a try. We’re excited. This is for the community. This airport is owned by the community and it’s our pleasure to run it on their behalf,” said Wood.