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Sunday, August 20, 2000
Airport baggage system experiences glitches

 SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Bags piled up in the terminal, surrounding frustrated passengers. United Airlines rented a truck, bypassing a new baggage system that collapsed for the fifth time in a month.

 And, as doubts were renewed about Sydney Airport's ability to cope with the avalanche of passengers during the Olympics next month, an additional $1.2 million was pledged Monday to fix the baggage system.

 Eric Aubert, a spokesman for Sydney Airports Corporation, said a problem in the $25 million baggage system's computers caused up to 20 flights to be delayed Sunday and that "the impact on passengers was an average delay of 10 minutes."

 But airline workers said 14 Qantas flights and 13 other foreign flights were delayed up to 80 minutes. United Airlines rented a Thrifty truck, loaded it with bags and drove it onto the airport tarmac.

 "Not since the days when planes flew under the power of propeller has getting a bag on an aircraft been performed in so archaic a fashion," said an editorial in The Daily Telegraph.

 The problem is simply the latest with the 3-month-old system, which also caused the delay of four outbound flights last Wednesday.

 In May, two baggage handlers narrowly avoided being hit by falling luggage. Last month, 2,000 pieces of luggage were left behind when the system crashed for 11 hours, delaying 6,000 passengers.

 One baggage handler, who did not give his name, told The Sydney Morning Herald that when the system failed Sunday morning, officials promised it would be fixed within 10 minutes. It took about three hours to fix, he said.

 "Their assurances are worth nothing, and if they don't start listening then the Olympics are going to be even worse," the baggage handler said. "We are rapidly becoming an international joke."

 Tony Stuart, the chief executive of Sydney Airports Corporation, said Monday an additional $600,000 will be spent on extra technical support for the system and $600,000 on operational support for international airlines.

 "We accept there have been problems with the new system and we are committed to doing everything in our power to ensure it is operating at peak performance levels during the Olympic Games," Stuart said.

 The airport also has experienced problems with the power supply to its air traffic control tower, forcing two serious power outages in recent weeks at an airport that just completed a $351 million overhaul.

 The airport was paralyzed earlier this month by a power failure that grounded all international and domestic takeoffs -- stranding thousands of customers for up to several hours.

 The problems are happening less than a month before the busiest period in Australian aviation history -- the Sept. 15-Oct. 1 Olympics.

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