RFID in the Air Industry and Land Transport
Aug 17, 2006 Dr Peter Harrop
As the RFID business grows strongly from $2.8 billion in 2006 to $26 billion in 2016, transport will be taking its fair share. A seminal decision was the unanimous vote of IATA, in October 2005, to settle on only one specification for the world's baggage tags, this being based on the UHF frequency band. This was courageous, because UHF works well with dry, non-metallic environments such as retail apparel in the UK and books in shops in the Netherlands, where there are few readers to interfere with each other but air baggage is none of these things. The technologists are wrestling with that one but in Europe and East Asia it is largely a waiting game as they hope for easing of UHF radio regulations to something nearer to the power levels, signalling protocols and bandwidth enjoyed in the US. However, few countries are willing to match the US regulations. Work rounds are on the way and the seven million or so airline bags that are lost yearly in the world, at a retrieval cost of about $100 a time, must surely reduce some time soon.
The split of value sales of RFID systems including tags in the air industry is shown below.
Figure 1 Percentage spend on RFID systems including tags exclusively for the civil air industry by application in 2006
+ includes trailers, Ground Support Equipment GSE, buses, cars, trucks, taxis etc.
*baggage trolleys, food trolleys, Unit Load Devices ULDs, pallets, baggage conveyor containers etc
Figure 2 Percentage spend on RFID systems including tags exclusively for the civil air industry by application in 2016
Boeing and Airbus are energetically introducing RFID on parts and equipment to reduce counterfeiting, automate status checks and make the supply chain more efficient. Virgin Atlantic, FedEx and others are deeply involved. UHF is preferred but there is interest in HF where appropriate.
In transport in general, there is a boom in RFID tickets and cards to improve security and speed of transaction and some are increasingly usable for general purchases. Twenty million of the new e-passports are being issued this year, with their RFID labels for security and automated recording of movements. That figure will soon reach 40 million yearly as over 50 countries adopt them. Over eight million ExxonMobil Speedpass key fobs are in use for purchases at gasoline stations. The 4.5 billion credit, debit and account cards from Visa, MasterCard, American Express, JCB and others are gradually being issued in RFID form so they transact faster and are more reliable and longer lived. The first 20 million were issued last year. Well proven HF is used for RFID for ticketing, bank cards and passports.
However, nothing stands still for long in the RFID business and there is now great interest in locating people and things with RFID. For example, one major airport is trying to figure out how to make all people in the airport carry something that lets them be located at all times, the better to eliminate queues and improve evacuations and security. Tracking freight and baggage with the off electronic reader here and there and making heroic assumptions about what happens in between is all well and good but we need Real Time Locating Systems RTLS. These usually consist of RFID at 2.45 GHz because, at this license free frequency, you can locate things using time of arrival from interrogatory beams or be parasitic off pre-existing WiFi networks or use peer to peer ZigBee RFID. However, this is a very busy frequency like UHF and there are a lot of interference issues. The good news is that the cost of RTLS systems and tags is tumbling down. The tag no longer drains its battery in a short time, it is smaller and other impediments are largely overcome. RTLS on vehicles, assets, freight and even people - when they volunteer for queue elimination and other delights - is on its way.
For more read "RFID in Airports and Airlines 2006-2016"