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Saturday, January 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Menzies steps up supervision

Seattle Times reporters

Employees of Menzies Aviation will get closer scrutiny from several directions after damaging two Alaska Airlines jets on the ground at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in the past two weeks.

Menzies is flying in 25 supervisors to Sea-Tac from locations as disparate as Mexico, Australia and the United Kingdom. They will work on the ramp alongside Menzies' local hires to improve the operation, which has struggled since Alaska Airlines fired 472 unionized baggage handlers in May and outsourced the work to Menzies.

On Friday Alaska also began adding its own oversight. "We have made arrangements to have six Alaska Airlines employees supervising (Menzies) ramp operations for each shift," said Amanda Tobin, an Alaska spokeswoman.

And the Port of Seattle said its employees will provide more training — and use their radar guns — to make sure drivers of baggage carts aren't speeding.

Meanwhile, a Menzies spokesman denied that fear of retribution was responsible for a worker's failure to report that he hit an Alaska jet with a baggage loader at Sea-Tac on Dec. 26.

That plane, an MD-80, lost cabin pressure at 26,000 feet when it suffered a 1-foot-by-6-inch rupture in its fuselage as it climbed out of Seattle on its way to Burbank, Calif.

"There is no culture of fear that if you have one aircraft incident you will be fired," said John Geddes, a Menzies spokesman.

Geddes recently arrived from Menzies' headquarters in the U.K., and he will soon be joined by colleagues from around the globe. Menzies provides ground operations for airlines at 92 airports in 23 countries.

Beginning Monday, four senior executives will lead a 90-day review of Menzies' operations at Sea-Tac, Geddes said.

The 25 added supervisors "will be in place for as long as they're needed," Geddes said. "Our aim at the end of this review is to make Seattle the best station we have in our network."

Alaska said in May it would save $13.7 million by outsourcing the Sea-Tac baggage work to Menzies. At the time, it had contracts with Menzies covering 13 other airports.

Alaska also plans to conduct its own audit of ground operations throughout its network, though details haven't been decided.

Two Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees at Sea-Tac said Menzies employees frequently drive recklessly.

"We tell them to slow it down; they just ignore us.

"They say, 'Are you the cops?' " recounted one of the TSA employees.

On Friday, Port of Seattle employees were out with radar guns to make sure baggage handling occurred safely, one of the employees said.

"We are expanding the number of staff who are trained to use them (radar guns), so I'm sure there was somebody out there today," said airport spokesman Bob Parker.

The airport also is increasing training. Port employees are working with airlines and contractors to "make sure they understand what 5 mph is," Parker said.

David Bowermaster: 206-464-2724 or dbowermaster@seattletimes.com. Cheryl Phillips: 206-464-2411 or cphillips@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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