by Mike Sharkey
Members of the local media got a first-hand look at the Jacksonville Aviation Authority’s revamped Handle Baggage System (HBS) at Jacksonville International Airport. As part of its $150 million expansion of Concourses A and C, the Aviation Authority spent another $15 million to relocate much of the system that can accommodate 1,200-1,400 bags an hour during peak capacity.
Although the relocation project isn’t finished, it’s close and the system is functioning.
“This is all part of terminal expansion,” said Todd Cox, manager of the JIA Airport Operations Control Center. “This project is pretty much done, but there is still some to do.”
Cox said the baggage handling system is being completed in three phases. The south side was completed shortly after the first of the year, Area 3 was completed right before The Players Championship and the north side will be done in November.
Much of the renovations centered on relocating the airport’s six CTX-9000 machines, which are actually owned and operated by the Transportation Security Administration. The cylindrical machines look like over-sized MRI machines. In fact, they function in a similar manner. The CTX-9000 is capable of taking a three-dimensional image of every bag that’s been checked and is headed for an airplane. The machine is also capable of detecting potentially dangerous chemicals and substances that could be used to create an explosion.
Every checked bag travels hundreds of yards on conveyor belts before it reaches its destination. A vast majority of the bags reach their intended flight. However, a small percentage require further screening and end up being “kicked” to a belt that directs them to TSA’s reconciliation room.
There, a team of TSA inspectors searches the bags by hand.
“It’s been a while since we had a serious issue,” said a TSA official at JIA who asked not to be identified. “It was probably an item that couldn’t pass the screeners. We resolved the issue outside of the airport.”
The TSA official said JIA doesn’t see too many questionable items, but did say a fair amount of human tissue (being used for medical purposes) and exotic foods does pass through the airport.
Weapons, he said, are allowed to be checked and require special packing. They must be declared at check-in, unloaded and packed in a hard-sided, locked carrying case.
“We can see the image, so we know it’s coming,” he said. “The airlines don’t alert us.”
According to Aviation Authority spokesman Michael Stewart, the current phase of terminal expansion will be done in the summer of 2009. The two new concourses will be well over twice as big as the current Concourses A and C and, more importantly says Stewart, capable of handling a better variety of aircraft.
“Each gate will be able to handle anything from regional jets to 767s,” said Stewart. “Now, they can only handle certain aircraft. In the future, they will be much more efficient. This will also allow us to grow easier in the future.”
Stewart also said JAA may start design plans for the expansion of Concourse B by the end of the year and construction could begin as early as late 2010. Stewart said the current expansion project will allow JIA to handle upwards of 9 million passengers a year, up 50 percent from the current 6 million.