The Failure of Denver International Airport’s Automated Baggage System

Denver Airport - source: Gathering (via Flickr)

Denver Airport had ambitious plans to route passenger’s bags to and from aircraft without significant human intervention. The system was called the Denver International Airport Baggage System (DIA ABS). It ran over budget by almost 30%, with an actual cost of $250M vs. $195M planned, and completion was delayed 18 months. These delays themselves are bad, but not disastrous. The problem was that the system did not function as intended. The system itself was not a trivial undertaking with 4,000 vehicles, 5.5 miles of conveyors and 22 miles of track. The design failed in several respects – the carts were often unable to cope with sharp corners in the track and loading bags directly from the aircraft failed. The sensors to determine where bags were in the system were not reliable. The design used a number of technologies that were untested. Whereas the Sydney Opera House is an example of a project with tremendously ambitious goals that simply ran over time and budget until those goals were met, the Denver Airport baggage system stayed much closer to duration and budget estimates, but the goals of the system were not met. And unlike the FBI’s virtual case file project there was no issue with vague goals, it’s just that the baggage system’s goals were clear but unrealistic.

The baggage system simply was poorly designed and poorly tested, more recent, simple computer simulations have found problems with the system, that the project itself was not able to catch until implementation.

See my book for strategies to avoid project failure.

2 responses to “The Failure of Denver International Airport’s Automated Baggage System

  1. It is still horrible. We wait 45 minutes to an hour for bags to show up every time. Doesn’t matter what airline you fly, it takes forever. That place has been open 15 years and still no fix? Terrible.

  2. Pingback: Project Failure – Wembley Stadium | Strategic PPM

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