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On Location: McCarran International Airport

McCarran is uniquely suited among airports to test RFID. Because almost all its flight-information, baggage-handling and check-in systems are "common use" equipment, the airport's IT department can coordinate such a project across the entire facility. In most other U.S. airports, the airlines choose and manage their own IT (see "Air Power," April 17, 2003).

"This is much more difficult to do when you have seven different baggage-handling systems," says Dick Marchi, senior vice president for technical and environmental affairs at Airports Council International, an airport trade association. Most baggage-handling systems aren't highly automated, Marchi says, perhaps explaining why bags are so often lost.

It may also explain why the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is footing about $95 million of the bill for McCarran's project.

Better Than Barcodes?

McCarran, like all U.S. airports, spent the past few months preparing for last month's federal deadline for screening all bags using the TSA's explosive-detection systems. It's a major shift, because bags deemed suspicious by the screening machines must be routed to a separate area to be searched. To minimize routing delays that can result in missing bags, McCarran officials envisioned an inline screening system that would keep bags moving during screening.

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