End to heavy lifting on board planes

Machine will help baggage handlers in narrow-body aircraft

Workers at Changi Airport who carry bags in and out of aircraft too narrow to accommodate a machine may get some relief from the backbreaking task.

This comes three years after the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) challenged the industry to come up with a better way of doing the work.

A team led by Singapore Technologies Dynamics, in collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries, has built a prototype that will help ease the load of baggage handlers who work in narrow-body aircraft.

Larger planes with a bigger bellyhold do not pose a similar problem as the space is big enough for machines to be deployed. The prototype seeks to address the challenges faced at various stages of the baggage-handling process.

For instance, loading bags into a trolley, now done manually, can be done by the machine's robotic arm.

For unloading, an automatic trolley offloader is able to lift a fully loaded baggage trolley, tilt it and offload the entire trolley's load onto the baggage conveyor belt in less than two minutes, at the push of a button. The prototype is one of several from CAAS' Aviation Challenge, launched in 2014 to develop innovative solutions to automate labour- intensive processes in airport operations.

Changi Airport will work with CAAS to identify selected innovations that can be further developed for operational testing in the airport's live environment.

For baggage handling, five teams were chosen from 14 which applied. They were then awarded a total of $9.2 million to develop prototypes, from September 2015 to July this year. Entries were evaluated by a panel comprising senior representatives from the aviation community, CAAS said yesterday.

The winning team was presented with a cash prize of $500,000 by Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng at an awards ceremony.

He said: "We should systematically and proactively look for ways to apply technology such as robotics and automation, to raise productivity and create better jobs for all our air transport workers."

Mr Kevin Shum, CAAS director-general, said that the spirit of collaboration and innovation that the competition created - both within and beyond the aviation community - is key to ensuring that Singapore's aviation industry continues to flourish and offer many exciting and attractive opportunities.

Changi Airport Group chief executive Lee Seow Hiang said the airport is happy to support the drive for innovation that can help to enhance productivity and make the work environment more pleasant.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2017, with the headline 'End to heavy lifting on board planes'. Print Edition | Subscribe