How To ‘Ramp Up’ New Ramp Operations

Matheson Flight Extenders has long specialized in ground support for the USPS, but is branching out into the commercial sector.


Want to work on the ramp for Matheson Flight Extenders? They’re an up-and-coming ground handler that definitely wants to expand.

And because they do government work (more on that in a bit), many of their 16 ramp and warehouse operations around the country honor the prevailing wage so you might start out by earning more than a few extra bucks an hour compared to other ground handlers.

Just be prepared for a little more work before you even start work.

“We’re strict and demanding,” says Tom Tagart, manager, operations and safety. “But we’re not afraid to invest the time in individuals to train them.”

Tagart told us the initial selection of the right individual is key. If you make the first cut, the company will conduct a criminal background check, a drug screen and check your personal references.

Then get ready to head to the “gym.”

“We have to know whether you are fit enough to do the job,” Tagart explains, “so we have a ‘functional capacity’ test that requires you to lift weights up to 70 pounds.”

Sounds reasonable enough. Working on the ramp is tough work. But you’re also going to need brains to go with the brawn.

“Your first day is an eight-hour orientation in which we tell you who we are as a company; what our goals are; and how we measure your performance,” Tagart adds.

So now you can get to work, right? Well, yes and no.

“When you do report for duty on the first day, you’re placed with a mentor,” Tagart says. “You stick with this mentor for the next two weeks.” In that time, there will be on-the-job training to learn, for example, how to secure cargo and inspect ULDs.

You want to drive a tug? Fine, but plan on another eight-hour day where you’ll first review operations and driving manuals, and then get your chance to run an obstacle course.

“We’ll start you off with just the tug,” Tagart says. “And then we’ll add one cart ... and then two carts ... and then three and four. You must prove the ability to maneuver in tight spots. Knock over anything and you wash out.”

If you make it, there’s more training on pre-work and post-work inspections of the tug. You’ll learn to test the brakes, for example, and make sure the hitch is correct. Tagart says all this will likely add up to 16 hours of training.

Now you can get behind the wheel, right? No. You’ll ride along with your mentor for a while and then, you finally get the chance to get behind the wheel – but only as long as the mentor is riding alongside to play the role of front-seat driver.

“By the time we do turn you loose on the ramp,” Tagart says, “there is a great deal of trust placed on you.”

Of course, that’s still just the start ... of the start. Slip up and you’ll find yourself back in class.

That’s a thorough training program considering Matheson Flight Extenders didn’t have much of a presence at any airports until 2001 and didn’t get what most in the ground support industry would consider a “real” ground handling contract until last summer.

TRUCKING DNA

“Our DNA is in the trucking business,” says Paul O’Donnell, vice president of business development.

Matheson Inc., currently based in Sacramento, CA, started out life as R.B. Matheson Trucking Inc. in 1962 and began operations with a single water truck. Two years later, company founders, Robert and Carole Matheson, purchased another trucking company that had two highway contract routes with what turned out to be a very important customer - the United States Postal Service.

Over the next four decades, the company’s trucking operation – by this time named R.B. Matheson Postal Service – was winning contract after contract to transport the mail for the USPS, plus acquiring other fleet operators that were hauling the nation’s mail.

Along the way, Matheson went into plenty of other businesses, including no less than selling fire wood.

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