Not long ago, air travel was a pleasant experience filled with dreams of opportunity, reunions with loved ones, and exploring sights unseen. Somewhere along the way, it devolved into a stressful, frustrating chore, with anxious hope directed at one thought: “Will my luggage make it to my destination?” Larry Studdiford is on a mission to change this and return the glamour to air travel—and as a respected authority in the airport baggage handling system (BHS) industry, and the founder and president of Virginia-based Studdiford Technical Solutions LLC, he’s just the person to do it. For nearly 28 years, Larry has worked with some of the largest airport projects in the country, transforming their BHS into the unsung heroes of yesteryear. He’s worked alongside the TSA since its inception, helping to develop and implement its policies and procedures, and screening technology integration, and has spent nearly a decade on the board of directors of the Airport Consultants Council, the premier trade industry for service providers to the aviation industry.
In 2016, after 20 years in the aviation industry working for some of the leading architectural & engineering firms where he specialized in baggage handling systems, he recognized a gaping hole in this critical niche, as larger firms dedicated less attention and expertise to these projects. For Larry, this was unacceptable—and he was determined to change it. He launched Studdiford Technical Solutions, LLC, a small business consulting firm specializing in baggage handling and transportation security. Serving airports, airlines, and the federal government, the firm provides services across all facets of the baggage handling project lifecycle, from planning to project management, owner’s representation, design, installation oversight, commissioning, close-out, and transition. “In everything we do, we are thinking of the passenger,” Larry says. “We want to make air travel stress-free from curb to gate, and return it to the glamourous, enjoyable experience that it used to be while saving airport stakeholders money.”
With airports across the country recognizing the critical role of BHS on their bottom lines, Larry and his team of subject matter experts (SMEs) have worked with the TSA as well as dozens of airports nationwide —among them Dallas/Fort Worth Int’l Airport (DFW), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Baltimore-Washington International (BWI), and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). “We’re moving the needle to change the perception of our industry from being the dirty, dingy, necessary evil to one that can improve airport operations and the travelers’ journey,” he shares.
We spoke with Larry to learn more about his work, the future of the industry, what drives him, and some of his most memorable projects.
You’re essentially improving the passenger experience while endeavoring to improve total cost of ownership (TCO) for airport stakeholders. How are you doing this and why is this important to you?
Airports have two basic primary requirements from curb to gate: move people and move baggage. If you can’t do them both efficiently and cost effectively, you’ve failed. I’ve always preached to my team that first understanding our clients' priorities and then providing them with the best possible advice for their baggage-handling system, regardless of how it affects our immediate bottom line, is essential. But in everything we do, we’re thinking of the end customer—the passenger. If their bag is damaged, lost, mishandled, or doesn't make its connecting flight, then their experience is negative, and we have failed. Directly or indirectly, this affects both the airline’s and airport’s TCO. Given that an airport’s baggage-handling system is rarely recognized as one of their most important assets, we strive to make sure that we are good stewards of their allotted funding by designing and/or overseeing the best possible solution for all stakeholders.
Can you share one of your most memorable projects?
They’re all memorable in one way or another! I would have to say that one of my first projects for which I was responsible for design and project management was the “new” International Terminal at San Francisco International Airport, which commenced design in the late 1990s. It was one of, if not the first, U.S. airport planning for inline checked baggage screening pre-9/11. It was also the first time I had to consider designing a dynamic system with such complex seismic code constraints. Once coordination on-site began, it required weekly travel, which was when I began traveling for business regularly, and I was hooked.
What do you see for the future of baggage handling operations?
The post-COVID recovery has taught us how personnel-dependent airport operations are on all systems, let alone baggage handling systems. The return to “business as usual” happened quicker than forecasted, and really shed light on how our systems have been neglected. While efficiency and improved sortation was always a priority, I think there’s renewed focus on automation and streamlined operations and maintenance, and there’s a plethora of new technologies that we can take advantage of. Additionally, there is renewed interest in the customer experience. Baggage is involved in the very beginning and very end of one’s journey. How it’s handled from curb to gate, and back, sets the tone and is one of the lasting impressions left with a passenger. How we, as an industry, can positively impact that and execute the process safely, securely, and efficiently will allow airports and airlines to reap huge benefits from customer satisfaction.
What do you enjoy most about your work, Larry?
I’ve wanted to be an engineer since I was in the sixth grade. The complexities of baggage handling systems, not only the mechanisms themselves but the overall project coordination, really speak to my problem-solving instincts. But the biggest joy I get is watching passengers, at the beginning or end of their journey, and seeing family members gather to embrace their loved ones after a long trip, and see the smiles and tears on their faces. I often ponder the purpose of the trip, wonder how smooth it was, and ultimately hope that my work had something to do with the success of the journey.
Founder & President — Studdiford Technical Solutions