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Monday, August 21, 2000
Baggage system could be dumped if problems persist

 SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Sydney Airport officials pledged $1.2 million Monday to fix their troubled 3-month-old baggage system and are prepared to dump the entire system if problems persist before the Olympic crunch.

 The system crashed again Sunday, the fifth collapse in the last month, delaying more than 6,000 passengers on 27 international flights. Baggage handlers said 268 bags were left behind or sent to the wrong destination.

 "We are less than a month away from the Olympics and it's obviously not coping," said Richard Olsen of the Transport Workers Union. "The flaws over the past 10 days indicate that the baggage system is not fixed and these guys are having continuous problems."

 The latest glitch led to a cartoon in The Daily Telegraph mocking the baggage system. The cartoon is set in Athens in 400 B.C. and shows a man behind a counter apologizing to a naked Olympian.

 "I'm sorry, Mr. Adonis," the cartoon reads. "Your toga has gone to Corinth and your sandals are in Sparta."

 The Sydney Morning Herald said airport officials have prepared a contingency plan in which the $25 million computerized baggage system would be dumped and replaced by a backup system.

 The newspaper, quoting unidentified industry sources, said the backup system would include the manual movement of luggage by baggage handlers, causing delays during busy periods.

 Kim Ellis, the airport's passenger services manager, said it would be impossible to promise there will be no problems when the airport faces huge crowds during the Olympics.

 "We're going to guarantee that we've got backup systems so that if a problem does occur, whether it's software or any other problem, we've got the ability to move Olympic family and passengers through this terminal quickly and efficiently," Ellis said.

 The airport allocated an additional $1.2 million Monday to fix the system. About 50 extra workers will be recruited to tackle the problems.

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

 On Sunday, bags piled up in the terminal around frustrated passengers and United Airlines rented a truck, loaded it with bags and drove it onto the airport tarmac in order to bypass the baggage system.

 "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 new system, which also caused the delay of four outbound flights 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.

 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 has 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 travelers 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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