Airport incidents prompt probe

ROMULUS -- State officials are investigating a Detroit Metropolitan Airport contractor for possible safety violations after a company worker was killed by an aircraft-towing vehicle and another flipped a deicer rig while allegedly driving drunk.

Although the probe is in the early stages, Aircraft Service International Group could face fines and even be shut down if investigators find other employees are at risk, said John Brennan, a division director with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Orlando, Fla.-based company employs 383 at Detroit Metro and has been a contractor there since the early 1970s, officials said.

"If we see imminent danger, where we feel death or serious injury could take place, we can cease the operation," Brennan said. "But that's a rarely used option."

Fines for safety violations can run from about $1,500 to $7,000, Brennan said.

The investigation, which will take anywhere from a week to months, began after 18-year-old Dorian Powell, a part-time worker for ASIG, was run over Monday by a fellow employee driving a tug used to move planes. Powell, a Wayne State University freshman, had his back to the tug when the driver backed up and accidentally hit him, said Michael Conway, spokesman for the Wayne County Airport Authority.

On Wednesday afternoon, a 20-year-old employee with a half-full beer in his deicer rig and an unopened can in his pocket flipped the vehicle on a remote airstrip, officials said. Conway said the man, who failed a Breathalyzer test, was fired and is expected to be charged with driving under the influence and minor in possession. ASIG owns the deicer rig that flipped over.

Airport police continued investigating both incidents Thursday.

Dan Sellas, a vice president for ASIG, said such incidents are rare for ASIG.

"We have a very good safety record," he said.

MIOSHA had never investigated the company for a safety violation before this week, Brennan said.

Although ASIG contracts with the airport, it works for 14 airlines at Detroit Metro, with duties including refueling and deicing planes and loading luggage. The company pays the airport authority monthly rent and concession fees that amounted to $2.4 million last fiscal year, airport officials said.

Employees must complete 79 to 150 hours of training, depending on job classification, before they can work independently, Sellas said. They also take a yearly test for the airport authority that covers airfield familiarization and safety.

In addition, in order to work in the airfield employees must have a security badge that requires a 10-year background check.

Powell had worked at the airport for about six months. The fired employee had worked there about seven months, said Sellas, who wouldn't release his name.

Powell's mother, Veronica Powell, said her son never complained of unsafe working conditions or problems on the job.

She said airport police would not say how he died or even if it was an accident, just that he had died and they were sorry.

Powell graduated from Henry Ford Academy with a B-plus average and was attending classes full time at Wayne State, she said. The airport job was helping pay the bills.

"He was a good Christian kid and he was popular," she said, adding that he liked basketball and writing positive rap tunes.

"His friends are literally in love with him. They're wearing T-shirts with his picture on it in memory of him."