Korea Embraces Radio Tags to Counter Terrorist Threat

Korea's five airports plan to adopt a radio frequency identification (RFID) system from May in a pilot project aimed to counter terrorist threats and enhance the efficiency of luggage delivery.

The Korea Airport Corp. (KAC) said that Asiana Airlines, the nation's runner-up flag carrier, will attach RFID tags to the baggage of passengers who travel from Cheju to five domestic airports -- Kimpo, Kimhae, Taegu, Chongju and Kwangju -- from May.

Based on the technology, bags of blacklisted passengers can be checked thoroughly at security gates, which had been impossible up until now.

The RFID tag is an adhesive sticker-like chip, which can be scanned from a distance. It is usually incorporated into a product or attached to its wrapping.

``The conventional paper tag doesn't contain any information on its owner, so we have been unable to pinpoint problematic luggage. But the radio tag will make things tougher for terrorists,'' KAC official Hong Kee-chul said.

At check-in, Asiana will associate a specific RFID number with the customer. In the event he or she is on the blacklist, the radio tag attached to the bag will warn of possible risks at reader-installed sort stations, thus enabling close examination.

The business card-sized chips for the test run have an ultra-high frequency between 908-914 megahertz and transmission power of about 4 megawatts, which can be read in a radius of 3-5 meters.

``In the short term, the security check will be possible at gates and carousels. In the long-term, however, we plan to use high transmission power tags, which will be able to locate the questioned bag as long as it is in the airport,'' Hong said.

RFID technology is also expected to free airline travelers from the hassle of trying to find their bags among scores of near-identical ones or making a series of phone calls in pursuit of lost luggage.

Instead, the radio tags will beam their whereabouts to electronic readers installed in belt loaders, a revolutionary concept compared to paper labels.

``As soon as radio-chip embedded bag appears, the reader at the baggage claim would flash the owner's seat number at electronic boards,'' Hong said.

He predicted eventually people will be armed with RFID readers small enough to carry on a key-chain, which will beep when their bags move past them.

The KAC plans to extend the track-and-trace services across the nation after reviewing results of the test run. In the future, international flights will also use the system.

To do this, Hong claimed the cost of a tag, now priced at around 500 won, should be substantially cut. He projected mass production will reduce its price below 100 won based on economies of scale.