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WITNESS simulation software is used to speed up baggage handling in the new airport terminal at Madrid’s Barajas Airport, which accommodates 70 million passengers annually.


In February 2006, a new airport terminal was introduced at Madrid’s Barajas Airport. The new terminal, the airport’s fourth, established Madrid as a major European hub, consolidating its position as the key connection between Europe and Latin America. The new terminal accommodates between 65 and 70 million passengers per annum and houses 172 check-in counters and 64 interconnected gates with the capacity to host 10,400 passengers at one time.

For ultimate efficiency, the new terminal’s automated baggage handling system, SATE, allows the processing of 16,500 pieces of baggage per hour. Firstly, a barcode sticker is placed on each passenger suitcase or item of baggage that passes through the check-in counter. Then, using an optical reader, SATE moves passengers’ baggage along a 96km circuit of automatic conveyors to their planes at a rate of 10 metres per second.

Despite the addition of SATE, subsequent tests conducted over the following months found that it was falling behind expected performance standards, with the whole system showing signs of instability. To rectify the situation, Barajas Airport’s management team researched various simulation technology providers to find a solution capable of making SATE more efficient, and subsequently decided on adopting Lanner’s WITNESS software.

Lanner’s vast experience and successes at creating greater efficiency through simulation programs within the aerospace industry, having provided simulation technology for BAA, Virgin Atlantic, Air France and Spanish Air traffic control (AENA), was a key factor in Barajas Airport’s decision to adopt the WITNESS software. Lanner was therefore tasked to produce a WITNESS simulation model of the SATE system to highlight where the system was going wrong, and to enable the team to correct any performance and production inefficiencies.

The WITNESS model included a series of numeric and graphic data outputs, offering users clear information about productivity performance in each part of the system. For example, WITNESS can monitor the time it takes a bag to travel from its entrance point to the release carrousels, as well as giving accurate details on the occupancy of the different warehouses for early baggage and empty trays.

The WITNESS software allowed users to introduce different variables into the program, in order to check their individual and combined effects on the efficiency of the system. These include:

  • Number of starter empty trays 
  • Empty tray warehouses capacity
  • Empty tray location allocation
  • Baggage transportation capacity


By entering all the variables into the WITNESS models and then examining the results, Barajas Airport was able to calculate exactly what steps were needed to speed up check-in facilities at NAT. These changes included modifications to both the conveyor belt system and warehouse areas.

After identifying the key areas for such improvements in the new terminals baggage handling processes, Madrid’s Barajas Airport will now also use WITNESS from Lanner to improve other aspects of the business, from monitoring and improving arrivals/departures flight scheduling, to implementing changes on security control regulations.

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