DENVER -- Denver officials are hoping that a German consulting firm can devise a plan for a partially automated baggage system at Denver International Airport by the end of this month.
Engineers from the German consulting firm Logplan are in Denver this week working on the system. It is their third visit to Denver. Logplan also worked on the baggage system in Frankfurt, the closest relative to Denver International's system. Logplan is expected to deliver its analysis by the end of July.
Ever since tests began failing in April on the $193 million baggage system, Denver officials have been scratching their heads to find ways to open the airport without a fury automated system. Now that the major user of the new airport, United Airlines, has agreed to a partially automated system, Denver officials are working hard on a plan.
A fourth opening date for Denver International has not been set yet because the baggage system doesn't work and engineers don't know when it will. The original opening date was October of last year.
Previously, when Denver officials spoke of a partially operating baggage system at Denver International, they meant automated systems for Continental's Concourse A and United's Concourse B.
Now they're working on something entirely different: a partially automated system for concourses A and B, in addition to using the traditional "tug-and-cart" methods for the third concourse, located more than a mile from the terminal building.
While Logplan toils in Denver, the city's financial crew is visiting institutional investors in New York this week to update them on developments at the airport. Denver hopes to prepare the market for a $180 million refinancing of old debt and $50 million to $100 million of new-money bonds to pay for delay costs, which are mounting by $600,000 a day.
Denver's project engineer, Norm Witteveen, told The Bond Buyer yesterday that no decision has been made on a partially operating baggage system. Witteveen said he hopes that Logplan will present Denver with a number of options in its report at month's end, including a partially operating system.
There have been media reports during the past two weeks that the city has been pushing for the airport to open in November and that it was firing the builder of the baggage system, BAE Automated Systems Inc. of Dallas, and turning the system totally over to Logplan. But Witteveen and other city officials said an opening date is still entirely up in the air and that BAE is still on the job and will remain so. BAE is now running 10hour, seven-day-a-week shifts.
Witteveen said a tug-and-cart system for Concourse C "is a foregone conclusion now because of the United agreement."
As for concourses A and B, he said, "we could isolate a section of the BAE system, such as outbound only. That could be an element of it. It's really too early to know."
Witeveen said the problem at Denver International is not a software problem, as it was this spring during failed tests.
"Most of the software problem is behind us. That is certainly not the major problem any more. It's tweaking of the system -- making the electrical and mechanical and structural modifications, adjustments referring to both the conveyer belt system, as well as the [destination coded vehicle] system," Witteveen said.
"The main problem is getting it all synchronized. If you've got a six-cylinder engine, it's running on four," Witteveen said.
This week, engineers are running small tests on the system, attempting to change speed controls on carts as they drop their luggage. In addition, software programmers are writing language for the computer that will allow it to control the speed of conveyer belts so that luggage doesn't pile up before carts arrive.
Brian Winters, fixed-income analyst for Van Kampen Merritt funds, said his company will be meeting with Denver officials this week.
"We're hoping for something we can get our hands around," Winters said, referring to news on a partially automated opening.
"We're not encouraged with what they've done so far with the bag system," he said.