Airport app targets holidaymaker bugbear

Mark Ingram, process manager at Babcock International
Problem solving: Mark Ingram, inventor of Babcock's ORS airport app

Babcock International has masterminded an app that is helping to ensure smooth running of baggage handling at Heathrow Airport.

It may not signal an end to queuing at baggage reclaim carousels, but a new app designed to help manage the flow of some 100,000 pieces of luggage a day through Heathrow Airport is already having an impact behind the scenes.

The app was invented to support the international airport business by Mark Ingram, process manager at Babcock International with the support of airports director, Ben Stancliffe, who has overall responsibility for one of the fastest growing core parts of the Babcock business.

“Bad weather had caused hold-ups in the system and once again, our 30-strong control centre was receiving a large number of phone calls, texts and visits from airport staff wanting to know when normal service was going to be resumed,” says Mr Ingram.

“While we kept people informed as best we could, things happen very fast in baggage-handling and the information we gave them was quickly out of date.”

He adds: “I knew that there must be a more efficient way of keeping our key stakeholders informed when there were delays in the system and 15 months on, this is the result.”

Heathrow passengers don’t see the miles of moving belts in the bowels of the airportMark Ingram, process manager, Babcock International

Christened the “Operational Reporting Systems” or ORS, the technology behind the app neatly replaces calls and texts with a smartphone app offering live status updates.

The simple efficiency of the new approach has already been recognised by the Airport Operators Association, which last year named Babcock Best Innovator in its annual awards scheme.

The app offers a “unique solution from concept to completion, addressing a specific airport issue [and] creating a single source of real-time information for over 100 stakeholders, which dramatically improved the efficiency of communication,” said the judging panel. It’s this type of innovation, Babcock says, that could help support other parts of its growing international airports business.

“What Heathrow passengers don’t see are the miles of moving belts in the bowels of the airport which take their luggage to various destinations around the campus,” says Mr Ingram.

“Just as a householder can use CCTV to record information from their garden, this approach allows staff to access hourly updates on baggage-handling in each area: graded on the screen as red, amber or green.”

The app, which can be accessed from anywhere in the world, includes individual reports from each airport terminal, signposts out-of-service areas and generates a daily performance report.

The technology behind the app neatly replaces calls and texts

Additional information comes in the form of control rooms alerts, released in the event of approaching bad weather, for example.

Further refinements are now imminent, says Ben Stancliffe, with the team now looking at maximising the app’s potential in other parts of its business.

“We have replaced a lot of the ‘noise’ around baggage-handling and are now able to provide stakeholders with live information about how the system is working on the ground,” he says.

“Phase 2 will see us introduce pictures to the app and, for non-baggage experts in particular, these visual reminders of heavy snow on flight stands, say, will hopefully be worth a thousand words.”

He adds: “By concentrating on complex engineering projects like this one, we enable our clients to focus more squarely on their own areas of expertise. This app is a prime example of the Babcock approach.”

Entry for the 2017 STEM Awards is now closed, but you can find more careers advice and opportunities at tgr.ph/stem