Florida Airport Acts as Own General Contractor for Inline Baggage System

Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

Foregoing the use of a general contractor and managing a design/build process itself, Florida's Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) added inline baggage operations at half the cost of traditional engineered build methods.

In 2006, Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority (SMAA) was eager to alleviate passenger congestion in the ticket lobby, and increase its baggage screening and handling capacity at the same time.

Facts & Figures

Project: Inline Baggage Handling System

Location: Sarasota Bradenton (FL) International Airport

Cost: $498,225 for Node A, $1.2 million for Node B; $2.5 million estimated for Node C

General Contractor: Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority

Design/Build Contractor: G&S Airport Conveyor

Government Entity: Transportation Security Administration

"We were seeing passenger loads increasing at the ticket counter areas and, because of the L-3 machines in the ticket lobby, we were losing 25% of the ticket counter space," explains SRQ vice president of Operations & Maintenance Robert J. Mattingly.

During peak periods, Mattingly notes, it wasn't uncommon to have people crisscrossing one another to get to an L-3 machine, with up to 40 or 50 bags stacked on the floor.

Like the majority of airports across the United States, SRQ wanted to move its mini-van-sized L-3 explosive detection systems from the front of the house to the back. But unlike most airports, SRQ was willing to act as the project's general contractor.

Making the Case

Mattingly and Michael Salmen, TSA's program analyst for Technology, personally presented the airport's conceptual idea to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials in Washington. "I wanted to put out an RFP and hire a company that could plan, design, construct and install," Mattingly explains. "I didn't want to hire an engineering firm first, have them plan and design, and then have to hire another company to construct the conveyor belts, and then possibly hire another company to install it. When you start mixing all of those different steps, components fail to operate properly and you exaggerate costs."

Designs by several firms, including the airport's own master planner, proved the point. Some were twice as expensive; all required far more time, materials, labor and, in the long term, maintenance.

Salmen served as SRQ's chief advocate in a process that largely mirrored the design/build lead of Tampa International Airport. Salmen, who is located in the Tampa TSA/FSD office, worked with Tampa's executive director, Louis E. Miller, to execute the first fully integrated inline system in the country.

Despite TSA's initial hesitation, Salmen and Mattingly secured a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to integrate the relocation of the first L-3 machine into a simple inline configuration (Node A/Phase I). Shortly thereafter, G&S Airport Conveyor was selected to plan, design, construct and install the inline baggage handling system per the conceptual terms of the MOA.

"The process became more difficult for the Node B project because the bureaucracy in Washington was ramping up," Salmen recalls. "It happened right on the tail end of approving the first system in Sarasota, and it made it a little difficult, to be quite honest. There were a lot of new requirements to ensure the design of the 'B' system was the best design possible. As the federal government is spending 75% of the money to reimburse airports, they want to ensure systems are well designed."

Saving Money

G&S designed the A node with remanufactured conveyors for less than $500,000. Mattingly estimates a similar new system would likely have cost at least $750,000 using a typical bid-build method.

"What we tried to do was utilize as many of the existing SRQ belts or conveyors which were on site," explains G&S Airport Conveyor president Jim Goertz. "Why put in new things when existing equipment is still functional?"

Alongside G&S, the airport authority handled the HVAC elements and the contract for the room enclosure and lighting. The airport facilities crew performed much of the work to save expenses.

The airport authority also saved money by using state contract pricing to purchase the 10-ton air-conditioning unit that's mounted on a concrete slab outside the L-3 room. "We bought most materials sales tax exempt in the State of Florida, saving 7%," Mattingly reports.

Saving Time

The room enclosure itself was fabricated by Structall Building Systems. Snap-N-Lock insulated panels were used as an outer wall and a side wall and connected to an existing side wall and poured concrete floor and ceiling to create an enclosed room.

"If you can believe it, those two walls took a total of two and one-half days to install, period," Mattingly recalls. "The North wall was one day, and the second wall took a day and one-half. We were trying to keep it simple, reduce costs and yet comply with hurricane codes."

According to Mattingly, the A node project would likely have taken 30% to 40% longer if the airport had used the traditional build approach.

Reaping the Rewards

Today, the savings-savvy airport has improved passenger convenience in the ticket lobby and created a better flow for passengers. Baggage throughput is also up. Since the A and B inline integration, SRQ has increased capacity from 160 to 400 bags per hour per L-3.

In addition, TSA manpower requirements and on-the-job injuries have dropped substantially. Prior to implementing the inline systems in Nodes A and B, Sarasota ranked third in the nation's airports for TSA on-the-job injuries.

"We have improved baggage screening throughput, reduced TSA bag screening staff and allowed for increased TSA staff at passenger screening stations; so the government and the taxpayers save in manpower," Salmen states. "The TSA injury rate has also dropped significantly because nearly 90% of the bags are no longer physically carried as they were before."

The productivity and savings have carried over to Node B, which piggybacked on the first contract the following year at a cost of $1.2 million. Funding for the B project came from FDOT aviation grants. Also, design improvements learned after the Node A project were incorporated in Node B. After the second L-3 machine move in 2007, bag output increased 200%. An overall 250% increase in bag output is expected with the completion of Node C.

Mattingly expects to begin the third and final phase of the project later this year, pending TSA approval and funding. Plans are in the works to utilize a design/build approach once again.


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