Trucks take up slack in shipping

Postal Service unsure when normal air mail delivery will resume

Terrorism Strikes America

Business Impact

September 14, 2001|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

The trucks were rolling in and out on schedule yesterday afternoon at the U.S. Postal Service's East Fayette Street processing center, handling their portion of the 5 million pieces of mail from the greater Baltimore area that flow through here each day.

That mail is sent to 30 distribution points, including Baltimore-Washington International Airport. But since Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and the resulting nationwide ban on air traffic, all mail had been going onto an expanded fleet of trucks and Amtrak rail cars instead of airplanes.

The Federal Aviation Administration lifted the air ban yesterday, and some flights took off. But the Postal Service was not sure when normal delivery of mail by air would resume. Normally, about 20 percent to 25 percent of the Postal Service's 650 million pieces of daily mail is shipped by air.

"We have a ground fleet of 210,000 vehicles, and we're working with another 6,000 to 7,000 trucking companies," said Helen Skillman, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service. "This is similar to what we do at holiday times of the year."

The Postal Service estimates that the grounded flights have caused delays of a day or two for some mail.

All post offices except those in lower Manhattan are open. The Postal Service is developing a plan for residents and businesses there to pick up their mail.

FedEx, others help

Shipping companies - including FedEx Corp., which recently began handling some air mail for the Postal Service - also have expanded their ground fleets in an effort to keep deliveries on schedule.

An official at FedEx, which normally has a truck fleet of 45,000, said the company resumed some flights yesterday and hopes to get most of its 640 aircraft flying today.

"We're optimistic we'll be able to resume normal flights Friday, to the extent that safety precautions and federal agencies allow us to," said Ed Coleman, a spokesman for the company. "In the meantime, we've been communicating with our customers and we appreciate their understanding because we've been experiencing delays of 24 to 48 hours."

A statement from Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, who lifted the air ban at 11 a.m. yesterday, said all aircraft now face a higher level of security. And although the FAA is allowing commercial planes such as those belonging to FedEx to fly, it is not permitting mail on passenger aircraft.

Neither the Postal Service nor FedEx would discuss security at their facilities or say what additional measures they would have to take.

Security tightened

Government agencies and businesses on the receiving end of the mail also have tightened security, according to one courier company.

Julian Hyman, the chief financial officer at Global Messenger Corp., which delivers packages from Richmond, Va., to New York, said they are accustomed to the drill.

The couriers all wear uniforms and identification badges. They routinely send lists of driver names to government agencies in advance.

"We're always up against security," Hyman said. "I've heard no complaints from my drivers that they've had any trouble. We're used to this."

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