Here we go again: first #winter operations training today. #brusselsairport #avgeek #atc #airport #instagramaviation #aviation
Our passengers of the day: This jolly bunch from Antwerp is flying to Spain today. As their friend Pieter-Jan is marrying next Saturday, they thought to surprise him with a bachelor party trip to Barcelona. We wish them loads of fun and a beautiful wedding next week!
The shell is nearing completion
On the outside we’re finally going for the finishing touch. Natural daylight is of course more than welcome, but direct sunlight makes temperatures rise in no time. That is why we’ve opted for special fins to control direct sunlight and temperature, without having to use air conditioning which consumes loads of energy.
With the outside structure all but finished, it’s time to tackle the interior of the building. We’re installing techniques such as air conditioning and electricity. The first real floors will start to appear in a few weeks. The central security screening platform is slowly taking shape, especially the huge metal structure which will contain all techniques.
Connector is already connected to Pier A now, and the connection to the passenger terminal will follow shortly. So if you hear some drilling next time you happen to pass through the terminal: hold on a little longer, we’re doing this for you.
Did you know… we have 2 beehives at the airport? Each beehive houses 1 queen, 50,000 worker bees & 5,000 drones. As bees are disappearing at an alarming rate, and our entire agricultural system may suffer greatly from this, we decided to install 2 beehives in cooperation with Apiterra. Each 2 weeks, a beekeeper comes round to check on the bees. We expect the bees to produce some 15 to 60 kg of honey.
“Suitcases travel through the airport faster than passengers”
We love to moan about the baggage handling at an airport. And if our suitcase misses the flight we become downright angry because then our comfort world collapses. But we don’t always know what goes on behind the scenes.
Until a year and a half ago 45-year-old Benny Vervoort was mainly responsible for the baggage processing installation at Belgium’s national airport. Meanwhile his tasks have been extended to include coaching a number of new colleagues and long-term planning, amongst other things.
“To put it simply, I am an important contact at Brussels Airport for everything to do with automated baggage transport. That excludes everything that the handling agents do of course; these days that means two large companies, Swissport & Aviapartner, plus some airline companies that do their handling themselves.”
Now, in 2014, there are around 16 kilometres of conveyor belts in the belly of Brussels Airport, driven by 5500 motors. More than 60 cameras and 100 PLCs monitor and steer the operation. At departures baggage is put into the system via 180 check-in desks, at arrivals it eventually falls onto 7 different carrousels.
“We can split the baggage system at Brussels Airport into two parts”, explains Benny. “On the one hand the system at the main terminal (opened in 1994) and on the other the one at Pier A, where a brand new system was brought into service in 2012. Here we reach speeds of 26 km/h or, to be precise, your suitcase travels up to 7 metres per second – a good deal faster than you move through the terminal yourself.”
The whole baggage department at BRU is run and monitored by a number of managers, supplemented by about ten duty managers. In addition to them you should count some sixty (technical) employees supplied by subcontractors, who are available 24/7. The majority of the staff work for the handling agents, who employ hundreds of people daily, purely and simply for baggage processing.
Lost or delayed baggage
The baggage department at Brussels Airport runs correctly 98 percent of the time, on an annual basis. “As far as our part of the process is concerned at least”, clarifies Benny. “Once again, the manual processing by the handling agent will determine the end quality.”
“…It’s the handling agent, not the airport that’s responsible for checking-in, loading, unloading and delivering hold baggage…”
One of the difficulties that affect passengers directly is what people generally call ‘lost baggage’, although in reality it is usually ‘delayed baggage’. “A suitcase that doesn’t arrive at the same time as you do has missed the plane for all sorts of possible reasons and will be sent on asap afterwards. If you immediately file a clear report, at least”, says Benny.
So how many suitcases are we talking about?
“On an ordinary day 30,000 suitcases fly in and out of here”, says Benny. “On peak days during the summer months it can easily be double that.” If it goes wrong (i.e. a conveyor belt breaks down) the system is constructed so that other loops take over. “It’s only when there’s a snowball effect and a number of systems break down through saturation that we have real problems”, says Benny. “A sort of Murphy’s law that can lead in the end to a crash, a horrible word that means that we grind to a halt. A crash is very, very exceptional and the speed of the solution depends very much on the moment. If it’s early in the morning on a busy July day it can make us nervous”, he laughs.
So where can things go wrong?
Airline baggage processing intrinsically follows a simple system. Your suitcase gets a barcode label; the computer throws it into the right airplane. So where can things go wrong? “To be honest, sometimes the passenger is also partly responsible”, says Benny. “Look how many travellers leave their old labels on their cases? Especially the reserve labels, the little sticky ones here and there are often the reason why the baggage transfer doesn’t go smoothly. It’s simple, every barcode is loaded with information. When a computer scans an old one, there’s a hitch. The same for creased labels. All this baggage is separated immediately and dealt with by hand. Not so terrible in itself, but it is time-consuming. About 10 percent of all suitcases suffer from this, even 15 percent of international transfer baggage.
Size is another problem. Anything that is not standard is a risk. So crutches, golf clubs, umbrellas, etc., they all have to be processed manually.” They can cause a tear in a conveyor belt and possibly a breakdown. “It wouldn’t be the first time in the world an umbrella brought an airport to a standstill”, laughs Benny. This manager is not a fan of the newest generation of suitcases with four thin wheels, one on each corner, either. “Handy for the customers but a disadvantage for us”, he says. Neither is Benny keen on sealing suitcases by wrapping them in strong adhesive plastic. “It turns your suitcase into an overly mobile ball, makes a good shape a bad one. I often say: anything that can roll causes problems. The ideal suitcase is a rectangular box, preferably without little wheels sticking out and straps trailing.” That’s why we try to dispatch all bags with straps and cardboard boxes etc. in plastic crates, it avoids possible problems.
Tips for those who fly
- choose the most rectangular model of suitcase you can find
- remove all the labels (including non-airline ones)
- make sure your home address is clearly marked on it
- don’t challenge the system by ignoring the minimum check-in time
- if your baggage is damaged, delayed or lost: immediately file a clear report with your handler or airline.
We can - we want to - do a lot, but we can’t work magic.
(article originally published in Dutch in Travel etc.)
Our passengers of the day are Nele and Filip from Geraardsbergen (you know, the Belgian town famous because of its ‘mattentaarten’ and - for cycle fanatics - the cobblestone hill ‘De Muur’). Last week, this couple woke early in the morning to take off with Thomas Cook Airlines for a well-deserved vacation on the Greek island Corfu. One sunny week, a bit of chillin’ and several cocktails later, having experienced several day trips on the island and a boat trip to the wild beauty of Albania, they conclude this was just what they needed to relax and forget the day-to-day hustle and bustle in Belgium.
The fire department provides a refreshing water curtain for those working on the tarmac.
Connector, July 2014
The #connector on its way to completion - roof and façade almost completed. #brusselsairport #construction
Three years ago, these two people loved to conclude their day at work at the Brussels Airport Starbucks. This weekend, he proposed to her on the very same place. Congrats!
Every now and then, we have to cut the grass to make sure rabbits and birds do not find it too appealing to make their home out of the airport grounds. Birds, rabbits and aviation aren’t a good combo, alas. Here you see these works in full action, next to the taxiways. Do you want to know more about how we deal with these animals? Read our earlier blogpost about our Bird Control Unit.
Our passengers of the day -meeters & greeters actually- are these unknown party people at arrivals. Were they simply waiting for a friend to come home? Surprising someone returning from a vacation on his or her birthday? Celebrating good news? Or maybe this is just their normal outfit. Who knows? So many passengers, so many stories.
A tale of giant eggs, chocolate eggs and talking planes
This Easter period we’ve installed a giant egg in the departures hall. During the first two weekends of the Easter holidays, we had an artist decorate the upper part of the egg. Kids were invited to go loose on the lower part. It made for this beautiful egg picture series.
But that was not all. Make-up artists needed no more than a few minutes to turn our smaller passengers into bold warriors or cute little princesses. Unless they preferred glitter tattoos.
We also distributed 30,000 chocolate Easter eggs, 10,000 colouring pictures, and 5,000 colouring pencils. You’re right, that does smell like a colouring contest. And a nice one at that, because your kids can win tickets for the exclusive pre premiere of the Disney movie Planes 2: Fire & Rescue at the airport. The airport? Yes, we’ll be installing a special pop-up cinema this summer to stage the movie. Seems like we have some stuff to look forward to.
On behalf of all of the Brussels Airport staff: we wish you a happy Easter and happy holidays!
We bumped into 5 rather unusual passengers today, waiting for their new owners in the arrivals hall. The organisation Pod and Co from Liège specialises in giving the Spanish Galgo and Podenco dogs a second life in Belgium and helped them find a warm and welcoming new family.