BWI airplane fuelers raise safety concerns about leaking fuel trucks; airport says they passed federal inspections

Jim Burns, who has refueled airplanes at BWI Marshall Airport for nearly two decades, says he no longer feels safe at work.

Half of the fuel trucks leak — sometimes within feet of the aircraft — he says, and when workers report the leaks and other problems to Menzies Aviation, the ground-services vendor, “they don’t fix it.” When the 49-year-old Anne Arundel County man glimpses passengers through the airplane windows, he worries for their safety, too.

“They probably wouldn’t be sitting on that airplane if they knew what was leaking under that wing,” Burns said, “especially when it’s hot.”

In addition to fuel leaks, workers say, a ground service equipment fueling truck began to smoke while in operation in December. Others have languished with malfunctioning headlights, horns, steering and brakes — “prolonged and unaddressed issues,” according to the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) complaint.

MOSH opened an investigation into workers’ safety complaints in April, said Michael Harrison, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Labor and Industry, which oversees the safety division. The investigation is ongoing, he said, and declined to provide details.

The airport’s fire department was not called to any fuel truck fires in the airfield in December, BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said. The fire was put out, and the truck was taken to the maintenance shop for repairs, workers said.

Menzies did not respond to the specific allegations, but a spokesman said in a statement that safety is its “number one priority at each and every airport in which it operates, and the company takes seriously any concerns raised by its employees.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said its annual inspection in April “did not identify non-compliance” with fire safety standards, but the agency pledged to “evaluate the concerns detailed by Menzies Aviation employees thoroughly.”

“The FAA takes all claims of non-compliance or unsafe conditions seriously,” FAA spokeswoman Marcia Adams said in a statement. "We will immediately conduct a follow-up inspection should it be necessary” to ensure the airport’s operations are in compliance with safety regulations.

The Maryland Aviation Administration, which operates Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, received “several allegations” from Menzies workers late last month, Dean said.

“Those concerns are being examined and will be addressed, as appropriate,” Dean said in a statement. “Safety and security are the highest priorities for BWI Marshall Airport and employees here at the airport.”

Menzies has contracts with several of BWI’s airlines to provide refueling, baggage handling, passenger services and runway de-icing.

Burns said he has worked for Menzies management for two years, during which time the company has been “scrambling” to hire Baltimore-based management. He said the company, which has a background in baggage handling, lacked experience with fueling operations when it took on the contracts with BWI.

“It’s their first time fueling,” he said.

Burns is seeking to unionize service workers at BWI Marshall under 32BJ Service Employees International Union because, he says, workers lost raises, holidays, vacation time and other benefits when they lost union representation in 2008.

Vincent J. Mosley wanted to get the company’s attention about fuel truck leaks, faulty brakes and heavy exhaust fumes — all issues for its workers at BWI, he says.

The 57-year-old BWI aircraft fueler from Upper Marlboro said he flew to a recent Menzies shareholders meeting in Scotland to raise the issue with interim CEO Giles Watson.

“What are you going to do to ensure people at my airport and people at other airports can do our jobs in a safe manner?” he said he asked.

The executive “gave us a little song and dance routine,” Mosley said.

But shareholders were impressed by the move, he said, and several told him: “I can’t believe you flew all the way over here.”

Mosley said he made clear he wasn’t condemning BWI Marshall, which he called a “wonderful airport.” But he said his presence at the shareholders’ meeting was intended to underscore the seriousness of the situation.

“That is our job — to identify any kind of safety factors we know of,” he said. “It’s in your blood. … It’s your responsibility to step up.”

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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