As the sporting world descends on Paris for the Olympic Games this summer, baggage handling systems at the host city’s airports will be put to the test

Paris 2024, a two-week spectacle, is expected to bring an influx of athletes, officials, and spectators from around the globe. The means the complex network of conveyor belts, scanning devices, and automated sorting systems at the French capital’s Charles de Gaulle (CDG), Orly (ORY), Le Bourget (LBG) and Beauvais-Tille (BVA) airports will be working at maximum capacity to meet the increased demand.

According to Groupe ADP, which manages Charles de Gaulle, Orly and Le Bourget, a total of 60,000 accredited Olympic guests, including athletes and coaches, alongside 20,000 members of government delegations and global media, will pass through its airports over the entire Olympic Games period (Beauvais is managed and operated by SAGEB, which is 51% owned by the Hauts-de-France Chamber of Commerce and Industry and 49% by Transdev). That represents 115,000 pieces of luggage, including 17,000 oversized items such as bicycles, poles, and kayaks, compared with around 1,000 oversized items handled by the airports in a normal year, Groupe ADP told Airports International.

The sheer scale of the challenge means that more than 5,000 of Groupe ADP’s employees in Paris will be mobilisedfor the event. “During the summer of 2024, France will be the centre of the world. It is in our airports that the Games will begin and will end for many; everyone will make their first and last memories there,” said Augustin de Romanet, chairman and CEO of Groupe ADP. “This is a magnificent challenge for the entire airport community and for our territories, and a unique opportunity to demonstrate our know-how and commitment to hospitality. Groupe ADP, with all its employees, will be there to make Paris 2024 an unforgettable collective success.”

The Paris 2024 mascot is based on the famous Phrygian cap, which the French consider a symbol of freedom
The Paris 2024 mascot is based on the famous Phrygian cap, which the French consider a symbol of freedom Paris 2024 – SOP 2023 – Benjamin Boccas

Groupe ADP believes the main challenge will come at the end of the Games, and it is estimated that most of the 15,000 athletes will leave Paris within 48 hours of the closing ceremony. The company has implemented a number of measures to mitigate any potential bottlenecks. First, athletes will be able to check-in their luggage directly at the Olympic Village, where they will find 14 check-in areas. A dedicated boarding lounge for departing delegations will also be set up at CDG.

Planning ahead

Several leaders in baggage handling systems (BHS) technology have installed equipment within Charles de Gaulle. Alstef Group was awarded the BHS contract for Terminal 2B at the airport in 2017, and in 2021 as part of planned renovation work, Groupe ADP awarded Alstef Group a design and construction contract for the renovation of the Hold Baggage Screening system (HBS) at Terminal 2D. The contract was part of a global initiative to integrate Standard 3 Explosive Detection System (EDS) control machines. The scope of work included 51 check-in counters, an automated outbound sortation system, two make-up carousels, power distribution, and control and supervision software. Terminals 2B and 2D now have a high processing capacity, handling up to 1,800 bags per hour for departures, and the inbound system has an even higher capacity, processing up to 6,000 bags per hour upon arrival.

BEUMER Group’s tote-based CrisBag is also in operation, providing tracking of baggage as it is checked in at the airport’s Terminal 2E and transported via a 500m tunnel to the Satellite 3 (S3) Terminal. The installation of modern BHS is part of a plan to ensure the French capital’s primary hub is prepared for the increased pressures of an Olympic Games.

Olympic events will take place all over Paris this year, not least in close proximity to Le Bourget Airport
Olympic events will take place all over Paris this year, not least in close proximity to Le Bourget Airport Paris 2024

A trial run

While the 2024 Olympics are providing a cut-off point for some of the BHS upgrade work, Alstef said the development programme at CDG had an earlier deadline – the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Philippe Hamon, group sales director airport solutions at Alstef Group, explained: “Over the past few years Aéroports de Paris, in collaboration with Alstef Group, has undertaken ambitious plans to upgrade and expand key terminals, exemplifying their commitment to readiness for major events. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the airport authority continued its efforts to enhance facilities without compromising on timelines.”

Hamon explained that one notable project undertaken by Alstef Group was the replacement of the complete Baggage Handling System in Terminals 2B and 2D at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. With a schedule aiming for completion before the Rugby World Cup in summer 2023, Alstef ensured that the new systems were thoroughly tested and proven well in advance of the tournament. This forward-thinking approach aligns with the broader goal of creating a resilient and efficient airport infrastructure to handle the increased demands during prestigious sporting events. In addition to these infrastructure upgrades, Aéroports de Paris has strategically reinforced the capacities of key terminals at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport to accommodate extra peak throughput. He added: “Alstef’s contributions extend beyond permanent solutions, as the company has installed additional check-in positions in Terminal 1 and equipped a temporary check-in area for VIPs. These efforts reflect a comprehensive and adaptive approach to addressing the diverse needs of an event as grand as the Olympic Games.”

Olympians using Orly Terminal 3 will benefit a state-of-the-art processing and routing system
Olympians using Orly Terminal 3 will benefit a state-of-the-art processing and routing system Groupe ADP

Trial and error

CDG is not the only Paris airport preparing for the Games. Daifuku Logan recently completed a state-of-the-art processing and routing system installation at Orly’s Terminal 3. The routing system spans over 4km in a gallery covering 9,800m². Sized to handle 3,600 bags per hour at departure, the system has two automatic tray sorters where the baggage label bearing the barcode is verified in real time at optical reading gates. The baggage is then sent to one of the 12 carousels before being loaded on containers.

“The system has brought huge innovation to our operations. It guarantees redundancy at several levels, be it infrastructure, conveying, safety equipment or make-up. This is a significant advancement for Paris Orly. Failures can be managed in real time without a slight impact on the installation,” explained Vincent Moussinet, deputy manager for automated system maintenance at Groupe ADP. However, Orly has since faced questions over the preparedness of its BHS after an equipment breakdown in the summer of 2023 led to significant flight delays.

The August incident involving luggage-sorting equipment at Terminal 4 meant that baggage had to be handled manually, resulting in luggage pile ups and delayed flights, many without the correct baggage onboard. French transport minister Clément Beaune said of the incident: “This is exactly the type of concrete thing that we need to watch. When one link of the chain breaks you have a really big problem.”

Groupe ADP expects to handle 115,000 pieces of luggage in its three Paris airports during the Olympics
Groupe ADP expects to handle 115,000 pieces of luggage in its three Paris airports during the Olympics Groupe ADP

A good example

If Parisian airports are looking to learn from others, London Heathrow would be a good place to start. The airport spent seven years preparing for the Olympic Games and consulted with previous host airports such as Sydney, Athens, Beijing and Vancouver in order to ensure it was adequately prepared. As Official Host Airport for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Heathrow handled the journeys of around 80% of the several hundred thousand spectators that attended and more than 100,000 athletes, sponsors and VIPs. In addition to the usual baggage, 15% of all the items that passed through Heathrow involved sporting equipment such as canoes and javelins. The Paralympics also saw the hub airport welcome a month’s worth of wheelchair users in just one week.

Heathrow handled the additional pressure by constructing a special Games Terminal on a staff car park for athletes departing from the Olympic Games. The west London hub offered check-in and baggage collection at the Olympic and Paralympic Village. BAA, the operator of Heathrow at the time of the Olympics, said baggage handling was the main challenge with athletes leaving with more than three bags per person, including oversized sports equipment. Designated areas were set up in ten of the athletes’ accommodation blocks as temporary check-in and baggage acceptance locations.

On the final day of the Olympics, 5,040 bags were collected at the Olympic Village and processed through Heathrow’s baggage system overnight to relieve the pressure on the airport the following day. By segregating the athletes and their baggage from the usual activity in the airport with the Games Terminal, the operator was able to successfully handle the peak demand. Babcock was brought in to design and devise a programme for a temporary baggage system, and once in place, to test, operate and maintain it.

Luggage being handled during the Olympics will include bulky and often fragile items of sports equipment
Luggage being handled during the Olympics will include bulky and often fragile items of sports equipment Groupe ADP

Forward planning

In anticipation of the Olympic Games in 2028 and 2032, hosts Los Angeles and Brisbane are undergoing extensive preparations to handle the influx of athletes, officials, and spectators. From upgrading baggage handling systems to implementing advanced security measures, both cities are investing in state-of-the-art infrastructure to ensure a smooth and efficient travel experience for participants and visitors.

Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) is currently pursuing an approximately $15bn modernisation project, including new baggage-screening systems. Terminals 4 and 5, home to American Airlines, JetBlue and Spirit Airlines, are undergoing a $1.6bn modernisation slated for completion in 2027 – a year before the LA Games – that will create a centralised location for ticketing, screening and baggage claim, as well as providing direct connection to the under-construction Automated People Mover (APM) train system. The project includes a Terminal Vertical Core, which provides for vertical circulation of passengers with escalators and elevators. The Terminal Vertical Core will include new passenger check-in and baggage claim facilities, a consolidated security screening checkpoint, a new headhouse area for passenger processing and a new post-security connection between Terminals 4 and 5. Deborah Flint, CEO of LAWA, said the company was “looking forward to welcoming the international community of Olympians and fans, who will experience our new front door to the City – a re-imagined and modernised LAX”.

Heathrow constructed a dedicated Games Terminal for athletes departing from the 2012 Olympic Games
Heathrow constructed a dedicated Games Terminal for athletes departing from the 2012 Olympic Games London Heathrow Airport

The same is true of Brisbane (BNE), where more than A$5bn of investment is planned across 150 projects, including a third passenger terminal and major refurbishments to the existing terminals. “We’re investing now to get ahead of the population growth curve so we’re ready for 2032 and beyond,” said Brisbane Airport Corporation chief executive officer, Gert-Jan de Graaff. “More than 20,000 people come to work at Brisbane Airport every day and we forecast that to grow to 30,000 by the time the flame is lit at the Opening Ceremony for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Future BNE will also create thousands of construction jobs as our 150 projects come to life.”

Brisbane Airport is installing a new state-of-the-art baggage system in the Domestic Terminal. “The current baggage system is made up of three separate systems that were originally installed in the 1980s while Ansett was flying. When this project is complete, Brisbane Airport will have a single world-class system across the entire Domestic Terminal and that’s great news for reliability, capacity, security and sustainability,” de Graaff added. The airport has awarded global automation specialists Alstef and Brock Solutions the contract to build the new BHS. The system will feature upgraded security and modern bag-tag readers, and operate sustainably by shutting segments of the system down when there are no bags to process, delivering energy savings. An entire new baggage hall will be built adjacent to the central satellite walkway. The current system will continue operating until its replacement is built, tested and commissioned, allowing a smooth transition. 

The tote-based CrisBag in operation at Charles de Gaulle
The tote-based CrisBag in operation at Charles de Gaulle BEUMER Group

Further reading: How Athens won

A central component of Athens’ successful bid for the 2004 Summer Olympics was the under-construction international airport (AIA), which organisers touted as a modern gateway that would be open in time for the games. Soon after AIA began operating in March 2001, AIA created an Olympic Games 2004 Team to co-ordinate the build-up to the event, and the preparation paid off.

Michael Rumpf, the then-head of baggage handling at AIA, wrote at the time that information gathering from previous Olympic host cities was a crucial part of the pre-planning, to determine how much capacity was needed throughout the system. “The whole process was calculated backwards. During the entire departure peak, no bags were short shipped, mis-sorted or loaded onto wrong flights. In addition to this there was no reported delay to aircraft departure because of baggage handling. This outcome was beyond all our expectations. When you plan a major event like the Olympics, many issues are important but in the end it’s really all about baggage.”

To deal with the surge of arrivals, airport staff stepped in to take bags off the conveyors, marshalling them nearby, while in some cases athletes’ baggage was transported from the aircraft direct to the Olympic Village to avoid congestion in the reclaim hall. For departing baggage, check-in counters were set up at the Olympic Village with internal AIA tags as well as standard ICAO labels attached to bags for pre-sorting at an express facility. 

Charles de Gaulle, the largest of four Paris airports that will welcome Olympians and visitors this year
Charles de Gaulle, the largest of four Paris airports that will welcome Olympians and visitors this year Groupe ADP