Improved baggage handling in 68 airports round the world earns salute for Auckland company.

New Zealand company Glidepath has been recognised for the key role it plays in helping airports around the globe cope with rising numbers of international travellers.

Glidepath, has installed 900 high-speed baggage handling systems in airports in 68 countries around the world at a time when international travel is growing at a rate of about seven per cent a year.

Its success was marked this month when it was named as the North West Supreme Winner in the Westpac Auckland Business Awards. Glidepath also received an award for excellence in innovation.

The Westpac awards are run by the Auckland Business Chamber in partnership with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) to celebrate innovation and creativity and Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett says many Kiwis will be unaware, as they travel the world, that they are being sped on their way by Glidepath's Kiwi ingenuity.

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Click here to view North-West winners and ceremony photos.

Glidepath founder and executive chairman Sir Ken Stevens says airports, as international air travel continues to grow at five to seven per cent a year, are struggling to cope with demand and need to quickly improve passenger processing without major construction expansion.

Stevens says Glidepath began developing airport baggage check-in systems in the 1980s before progressing to self-service technologies in 2013, a time of rapid change as the industry headed to self-service bag drop (SSBD).

"We used to do all sorts of mechanical handling," he says. "We're engineers, we had a good product, but our work with Vancouver (airport) steered us towards thinking about the customer experience."

The company's engineers were set in their ways, but thinking from a travellers' point of view ("that's you and me") helped focus their research and development on SSBD. Early SSBD systems had simply added limited automation, sometimes not thoroughly tested, to a standard check-in conveyor, using slow and problematic bar code readers.

A recent Glidepath breakthrough came with image capture technology (using cameras in lieu of bar code readers) which gave a far superior tag read rate. It also added consumer-friendly ergonomics working with Vancouver's innovation business division, Innovative Travel Solutions (ITS) in what they called 'holistic collaboration'.

The result was a system known as Checkitxpress. Launched in May, it combines inspirational industrial design with cutting-edge technology and ease of use.

"The bag drop is getting faster," Stevens says. "We're forever updating and speeding up and have multiple software programmes for all parts of the process, from gear boxes and connections, to integration with xray machines.

He says Glidepath's self-service technologies need less floor area, meaning reduced cost in check-in personnel, a freeing up of floor space and shorter passenger queues.

"Technology has taken a leap from mechanicals to heavy software, so that's always a challenge for us to keep up," he says.

But there are drawbacks to his success. Stevens says, tongue-in-cheek, that knowing a lot of people in airports around the world means he tends to have busman's holidays when travelling; he often gets asked to keep an eye on things as he passes through an international port.

A good example is when he is in Vancouver: "We've been partnering with them since way back in the 1980s," he says. "They've had a succession of chief executives, three of them are friends so whenever I go through they always ask, 'Hey would you mind checking something for me'. They like my 'relative outsider' eye."

This habit of going the extra mile is all part of business for Stevens, originally a tool and die fitter, who founded the company in 1972 (then a small west Auckland engineering shop).

The company's first export order was in 1978, to Townsville, Australia. Since then it has expanded in many markets including places like Lima in Peru and Santiago in Chile, where the company now has a team of 20 operating and maintenance staff.

Nearly half of the company's 270 employees work on sites around New Zealand and the world including Canada, Latin America, India, South Africa, and Australia. A network of agents throughout Asia support the company's key markets in that region, while at head office in Auckland a team of 100 focus on research and market development.

"Entering this award has helped us measure up against different parameters," says Sir Ken. "It has helped us on our journey, lifted our game in performance, product and adaptability. Tech is now a bigger exporter than meat in New Zealand and a good employer - and we'll just get better and better."

Next Friday we feature the winner of the Westpac Auckland Business Award's South East region.