Difference between revisions of "Denver Airport Baggage Handling System"

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[[Category:Part 7]][[Category:Vignette]]
[[Category:Part 7]][[Category:Vignette]]

Revision as of 21:26, 12 June 2012

This vignette describes systems engineering (SE) issues related to the development of the automated baggage handling system for the Denver International Airport (DIA) from 1990 to 1995. The computer controlled, electrical-mechanical system was part of a larger airport system.

Application domains: transportation, logistics, and system of systems

Application areas: product, service

Vignette Description

In February 1995, the Denver International Airport (DIA) was opened 16 months later than originally anticipated with a delay cost of $500 million. A key schedule and cost problem—namely, the integrated automated baggage handling system was a unique feature of the airport. The baggage system was designed to distribute all baggage automatically between check-in and pick-up on arrival. The delivery mechanism consisted of 17 miles of track on which 4,000 individual, radio-controlled carts would circulate. The $238 million system consisted of over 100 computers networked together, 5,000 electric eyes, 400 radio receivers, and 56 bar-code scanners. The purpose of the system was to ensure the safe and timely arrival of every piece of baggage. Significant management, mechanical, and software problems plagued the automated baggage handling system. In August 2005, the automated system was abandoned and replaced with a manual one.

The automated baggage system was far more complex than previous systems. As planned, it would be ten times larger than any other automated system, be developed on an ambitious schedule, utilize novel technology, and require shorter than average baggage delivery times. As such, the system involved a very high level of SE risks. A fixed scope, schedule, and budget arrangement precluded extensive simulation or physical testing of the full design. System design began late as it did not begin until well after construction of the airport was underway. The change management system allowed acceptance of change requests that required significant redesigns to portions of work already completed. The design did not include a meaningful backup system; for a system that required very high mechanical and computer reliability, this increased failure risks. The system had an insufficient number of tugs and carts to cope with the volume of baggage expected and this, along with severely limited timing requirements, caused baggage carts to jam in the tracks and for them to misalign with the conveyor belts feeding the bags. This resulted in mutilated and lost bags.

The baggage system problems could be associated with the non-use or misuse of a number of systems engineering concepts and practices: system architecture complexity, project scheduling, risk analysis, change management, system analysis and design, system reliability, systems integration, system verification and validation/system testing, and insufficient management oversight.


The initial planning decisions, such as the decision to implement one airport wide integrated system, the contractual commitments to scope, schedule, and cost, as well as the lack of adequate project management procedures and processes, led to a failed system. Attention to system engineering principles and practices might have avoided the system’s failure.


Works Cited


Primary References

No primary references have been identified for version 0.75. Please provide any recommendations on primary references in your review.

Additional References

Calleam Consulting Ltd. 2008. Case Study – Denver International Airport Baggage Handling System – An illustration of ineffectual decision making. Accessed on September 11, 2011. Available at http://calleam.com/WTPF/?page_id=2086.

Neufville, R. de. 1994. "The Baggage System at Denver: Prospects and Lessons." Journal of Air Transport Management. 1(4): 229-236.

Gibbs, W.W. 1994. "Software’s Chronic Crisis." Scientific American. September 1994: p. 72-81.

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