Thursday, November 30, 2006


Nope. Sorry, fresh out. Come back tomorrow.

Actually, a friend of mine threatened me with an "extraordinary rendition to get you out of that damn jungle." A correspondent who signed himself or herself "Gaucho Marx" said: "Haven't you figured out yet that we're all crazy? Don't you know crazy is contagious?"

So we'll give it a rest for today at least. And turn to various other travel topics:

--NOT IN THE POLONIUM SECTION, PLEASE! -- Showing that comedy is all about -- uh, what was that? oh yes: timing -- British Airways recently sent its Executive Club members an e-mail that used these always-alarming words: "We'll be making important changes." The changes? "We will no longer pre-assign seats for most customers at the time of booking." As of Dec. 5, only the following can choose their seats in advance: "families with young children, FIRST class travelers (the caps are BA's), Gold and Silver Executive Club members, and those travelers holding fully flexible
tickets" [read: those who paid the unrestricted, top-dollar published fare that virtually no one has paid in coach in 5 years].

Now, at least two British Air 767s are grounded and being scrubbed because killer Russian spies brought super-deadly Polonium 210 on board. Oops! More than 30,000 passengers are being notified they may have been seated near the Polonium section.

Quick! If you're a B.A. flier, hurry onto and get Viajero Joven to custom-book you a mileage run so you can hit Silver or Gold for next year! (Seriously, the guy is a certified genius. Last year, when I needed 22,000 miles to maintain Platinum on Continental for this year, he custom-booked me a 23,000 two-day, one-night trip that strangely included two connections in Guam -- for a total fare of $701. I bailed out at the last minute only under threat from my wife, but I'm planning on another go at it before the year ends,. because this year I'm even short for Gold.}

Anyway, remember last August when the cops in the U.K. went all wobbly over a grandly proclaimed but rather thin-in-the-detail terrorist plot to use liquids, gels and mince pies or whatever to do something really, really bad? At first, they said it was blow up 10 airliners over selected U.S. cities, but there turned out not to be any actual evidence of that beyond the whispered word of a batty informant who'd been on the payroll for two years and was looking to re-up.

Almost four months later, no real evidence of a serious in-the-works plot has actually emerged (shhhh, they're still investigating). But the U.S. Homeland Security Department started shrieking in tune with the Brits, and the result is my wife got busted at security over Thanksgiving for a container of yogurt.

Liquids, pastes and gels still remain banned except in three ounce containers obediently displayed in a one-quart-size zipper-lock plastic bag (a pint or a gallon will not do). And gel-bras of all sizes are still o.k., the falsies industry has been assured.

Anyway, you can't get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich onto a plane these days. (The peanut butter is o.k., someone I know was told at security, but the jelly half has to be tossed). But somehow, a scary gang of former USSR spies turned homicidal-maniac-gangsters-with-actual-KGB-experience managed to get Polonium 210, one of the most lethal substances on the planet, onto the planes.

Remember, Boris: No Marmite. And remember to book a seat away from the Polonium section.

--I WASN'T TOLD WE HAD TO DRESS! I felt somewhat sorry for Pope Benedict XVI the other day when he showed up in Turkey in his regular simple white uniform-of-the-day only to be met by a Turkish Muslim religious leader wearing a gold-embroidered waistcoat and a sailor hat that looked like it was 10 inches tall.

I mean, the Pope obviously knows how to dress simply for travel. In the picture, you could almost hear him thinking: "Hey, I got a 20-pound diamond-and-ruby studded gold crown and a crimson fur-lined cape back home. Nobody told me this was formal."

Today's paper offers some reassurance that the dress code has finally been agreed upon. Nice to see some agreement after, what? 1,000 years of trouble? Someone obviously was dispatched back to Rome for the formal duds because today the Pope is shown in a ermine-lined red cape and gold-embroidered stole meeting the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, himself resplendent in his own embroidered cape and hat-that-resembles-a-mountain-camping-tent, not to mention a bejewled brooch the size of a manhole cover and, as an added touch, a long gold-filligreed pole that would be the envy of the gayest gondolier in Venice.

You and I think packing for a trip is a chore! Imagine these guys on the road.

--BUSH DOES VIETNAM! Finally, George Bush has gone to Vietnam, well over 35 years since a lot of the rest of us were dragged there while the President's daddy's pals snagged him a cushy gig defending the Domino Theory in Texas and, he insists, also in Alabama, honest. And Bush reported for duty both days in Vietnam! Goob job, soldier! Mission accomplished!

Can a trip to Vietnam by Dick Five-Deferral ("I had other priorities") Cheney be far behind? Can't you see the Vice President and his pals in camouflage kit and conical peasant hats, squatting in a rice paddy with shotguns, to bag a duck. "DUCK!" I mean the verb, not the noun!

--AND FINALLY, a movie review that doesn't pull punches. "An Ambitious and Deeply Stupid Movie," says the headline on today's Slate over a review of "The Fountain," which stars Brad Pitt as a time-traveler. "A really stupid movie," says the reviewer, Dana Stevens. So you can scratch that sucker off your Netflix "Saved" queue.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


The Federal Police in Brazil don't appear to be moving as readily as they said they would yesterday to address the holding of two American pilots -- Rep. Peter King of New York calls them "hostages" -- after the Sept. 29 mid-air collision.

It seems the cops in Mato Grosso (see my descriptions of my strange Night at the Mato Grosso Police Station in the London Times link in the post below) now say they probably won't get around to interviewing the two pilots (again!) before the week of Dec. 13. Yesterday, they were reported in Brazil as saying that they would interview the pilots next week, with a release expected shortly afterward.

Representatives of the families of those who died in the accident have strongly objected after the Federal Police said they were ready to release the pilots and focus their attention instead on Brazil's air traffic control system and its protesting air traffic controllers (2,200 air controllers now, down from 3,600 15 years ago, though air traffic has doubled in Brazil since then). Overwhelmingly, evidence accumulated so far points to a series of errors and malfunctions in air traffic control as the primary cause of the crash.

But the complaints in the several major lawsuits filed so far all name as defendants companies in the United States -- ExcelAire, the charter jet company that employs the pilots, and Honeywell, the company that manufactured the transponder.

The loss of 154 lives on Gol Flight 1907 was profoundly tragic, and it is crucial that the faults that caused this disaster be exposed and fixed in Brazil. To cover this up and falsely assign blame is to dishonor those who died.

All together now: who has money? The Americans! I mean, good luck getting a judgment out of the Brazilian Air Force and its air traffic control system, which pays its air controllers so poorly that many of them drive taxis or have other second jobs.

The Association of Family and Friends of the Victims of Flight 1907 has today publicly demanded a delay in any planned release of the American pilots while the investigations continue.

The Association issued a statement today saying that unspecified "financial interests" were behind the move to release the pilots, who have been detained now, without charges or any evidence of charges, for 61 days.



Here's a link to my November 26 article in the Times of London Sunday Magazine on the mid-air collision in Brazil. Click here.


Yesterday's post speculated that the Brazilian Air Force boys hustled up to inspect the Legacy transponder at Honeywell Aerospace in Phoenix this week as a kind of "Hail Mary" pass to find something incriminating while the Federal Police get ready to release the pilots and shift blame to the Air Force's air-traffic-control domain.

It's been pointed out to me that the far more likely explanation is that the Air Force was ordered to do one more symbolic bit of "due diligence" and report that they, too, had found no evidence -- before the jig is up. That makes a lot of sense, and I stand clarified.

[Note appended Nov. 30 -- I totally missed a story in O Globo last week in which the Air Force commander, Brigadier Luiz Carlos da Silva Bueno, was quoted as telling the Brazilian Senate that air traffic controllers may have made errors monitoring the Legacy from Brazilia, with one controller tellling his replacement at a shift change that the Legacy was at 36,000 feet, whenin fact it was at 37,000 -- and that, the brigadier said, the Legacy transponder was not working.]

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Major Brazilian news media are reporting tonight that the Federal Police in Brazil have said the two American pilots detained for 60 days after a mid-air collision that killed 154 people over the Amazon Sept. 29 will be released as early as next week after one more round of questioning.

The news comes after an earlier report that Brazilian Air Force officials had hurried to Phoenix this week to examine the transponder of the Legacy 600 business jet that survived the crash -- evidently in a desperate last-minute lunge to try to find incriminating evidence that the pilots had deliberately turned off the device to avoid detection by air traffic control. No one but the top brass in Air Force and their boss the Defense Minister, I should add here, gives any credence to that assertion.

The Federal Police and the Air Force are conducting independent parallel investigations into the crash, but it's believed the Federal Police will have the final say on if and when the pilots' passports will be returned so they can leave Brazil. The Air Force is responsible for running Brazil's air-traffic control system, which has been hobbled in recent weeks by air-traffic controllers protesting unsafe conditions and poor pay.

Here's my reading of the current situation:

Recently, as international attention has focused on the continuing detention of the American pilots without charges, the Air Force and the Brazilian defense minister, Waldir Pires, have been thrown on the defensive.

For almost two months, I have been referring to Mr. Pires as Wonderful Waldir, chiefly to ridicule him for his batty insistence that the crash could only have been caused by the American pilots deliberately turning off the plane's transponder so they could do illegal stunt maneuvers and aerial tricks to show off the brand new $25 million jet over the Amazon skies.

Slowly, outrage about the pilots' indefinite detention has built in the United States. But the outrage has also built in Brazil, where it has become more than apparent that the chief cause of the crash lay within the air-traffic control system, and that Wonderful Waldir's intransigence on the matter was becoming an international embarassment to a country working hard to project a modern, first-world image.

The "aerial maneuvers" charge was always a way to deflect blame from the air traffic control system. Long after anybody with a brain the size of a turnip had dismissed the "loop-d-loop" allegations as nonsense, the Brazilian Air Force was under pressure to keep them alive. Thus the trip to Phoenix, where Honeywell Aeronautics, the manufacturer of the transponder, had brought the transponder and other technical equipment from the Legacy cockpit to be examined.

The Air Force trip to Phoenix was led by Colonel Rufino Ferreira, the president of the Brazilan Air Force panel conducting the secret investigation in an air-control system run by, uh, the Brazilian Air Force.

Myself, I'm glad to hear they got to Arizona without incident, as Brazilian air traffic controllers have been tying up that nation's air traffic since last month to protest what they call unsafe working conditions. The Air Force brass must have prudently taken no chances and flown private.

However, the Federal Police said they'll question the American pilots again next week and "after that they will be free to return to the United States," even if it is determined they might likely be indicted later, according to the national newspaper O Globo.

Also, O Globo says tonight, the Federal Police are "convinced" that there were "decisive" air-traffic control "failures in the Sao Jose dos Campos tower, from where the Legacy took off, and in Brasilia, which should have had the jet descend to 36,000 feet and did not."

And the Federal Police now also publicly state there were no loop-d-loops: "Technical examinations have demonstrated that the Legacy's flight was linear, without abrupt maneuvers or risky tests," Globo quotes the Federal Police Chief Renato Sayao as saying. adds: "Sayao now is turning his attention to the Brazilian controllers."

If the controlers accelerate their protests in response, it will not be a good time to be flying in Brazil.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which has been conducting one of the independent investigations and has arrived at its major conclusions, categorically stated recently that all of the evidence shows there were no aerial maneuvers or stunt flying by the Legacy, which was level at 37,000 feet at time of impact.

But Wonderful Waldir -- to whom the Air Force and air traffic control report -- has steadfastly maintained that only mendacity on the part of the American pilots could have caused the accident. Brazilian air traffic control could in no way have been a cause, he has insisted.

But now the question is, who you gonna believe: the N.T.S.B. and the Brazilian Federal Police, or Wonderful Waldir & Co. trying to cover their butts while holding onto that honeypot of an air-control budget? What did these guys expect to find in Phoenix, after all of the independent experts have already made full reports? Maybe some yellow-cake uranium or a cache of aluminum tubes will turn up.

Now, at the risk of repeating myself (again), let me review the evidence that is currently not in dispute by anyone who isn't clinically delusional.

--One, the Legacy was flying at 37,000, on what would turn out to be be a collision course with the 737, under direct orders from flight control.

--Two, the Legacy tried unsuccessfully 19 times before the crash to raise air-traffic control near Brasilia.

--Three, in a colossal screw-up, overworked and undersupervised air traffic controllers at the Brasilia air traffic control center determined -- using equipment generally believed to be faulty -- that the Legacy was at 36,000 feet when it was actually at 37,000. The crash occurred in their sector.

--Four, Brazilian air traffic control radar and communications in the region where the crash occurred are notoriously unreliable.

--Five, I was ON the damn Legacy! If they'd have been doing loop-d-loops when we collided with a 737, I would have had one hell of a front-page story, wouldn't I?

On Sunday night, the Globo network's highly rated weekly show "Fantastico" presented irrefutable evidence of blind spots and dead zones in air traffic control in that region, just as pilots and other experts have been saying for two months.

"Fantastico" also dragged out still another frightened air traffic controller who said the Amazon has "thousands of square miles" that radar can't cover with accuracy. As colleagues have in the past, he said that flight controllers, nearly all of whom are in the military, are badly supervised, work long hours at lousy pay, and have to deal with old equipment for which there often is no money for repairs.

Wonderful Waldir, of course, had a retort. "Defense Minister Waldir Pires says that these blind spots or black holes are just inventions by those trying to discredit Brazil or his work," reported earlier today.

His work.

By the way, New York Rep. Peter King, the Congressman who represents parts of Long Island, where the pilots are from and where the Legacy's owner, ExcelAire Service, is based, is now openly referring to the pilots as "hostages." He says he is working for their release and hoping to get the State Department to work with him a little more tenaciously.

The pilots Joe Lepore, 42, and Jan Paladino, 34, have now been held hostage for 60 days. Let's hope the Federal Police are good to their word.



Monday, November 27, 2006


Brazil's Defense Minister Wonderful Waldir Pires again denied last week that there are any dead zones or black holes in air traffic radar coverage. "If the holes existed, I'm sure I would have been informed," he said.

Given the recent drumbeat of media stories showing that Brazil's air space is riddled with air traffic control communications problems, perhaps someone by now has awakened the man responsible for the country's militarized air-traffic control and duly informed him.

Last night there was more proof offered on "Fantastico," a popular weekly program on Globo TV, in which a radar display from the air traffic control center at Brasilia shows what today describes as "a huge black hole, a blind spot not covered by radar, which extends for thousands of square miles."

In an interview on the program, an anonymous controller "also pointed out that the air control equipment being used by Brazil is in very bad shape and often obsolete. Some of the devices are over 30 years old," says, adding:

"He told that is not uncommon that workers in the control center get ghost planes in their monitors. In these cases, the controller sees two planes in his equipment even though in reality there is only one aircraft. ..."

"Another problem are static images on the screen that show an airplane in movement as if it had stopped like a helicopter. This happens when the system fails or the computer freezes."

The controller added, according to, that equipment is prone to failures. "We have a hard time to talk; the radio frequencies are bad. And we have an aggravating circumstance today: the number of flights has significantly increased." ...

Among the problems controllers have is noise and interference on their radios in the urban Brasilia area itself. "You can pick up cellular phone, pirate radio and sometimes even official radio," the controller said.

Often, over the vast skies of the Amazon, "the controller can talk to the pilot but cannot see what's happening. The collision between the Boeing and the Legacy, which left 154 dead and many unanswered questions, happened inside this black hole. "Knowing what I know I don't feel secure flying in this area," the controller said.

Earth to Wolderful Waldir: Do you read us? Over.

Meanwhile, the two American pilots of the Legacy 600 corporate jet, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, remain detained in Brazil, with no charges or even the slightest evidence of possible charges having been presented by the Brazilian authorities. It is now Day 59.


Sunday, November 26, 2006


I think I have said this here before, but it bears repeating: The only thing I know about airplanes is how to sit in one. And the only authority I bring to the discussion over what happened on Sept. 29 at 37,000 feet over the Amazon is based on two things:

1. I was a witness, and am so far the only one of the seven survivors who's been free to talk and write publicly about this event, which came to dominate this little travel blog that I started writing, just for fun, in August.

2. From day one, I sensed that the fix was in to scapegoat the two American pilots. And then the Defense Minister of Brazil and other authorities began seriously making wild charges, such as the now utterly discredited allegation (which went unchallenged in the media for about a month) that the American pilots caused the horrendous crash because they were doing "stunt maneuvers" in the sky to show off the new Legacy 600 jet. So I decided to get tough here about what I saw going on there, even though I knew it would guarantee the continuation of my very much unwanted role as a punching bag for a small contingent of anti-American hysterics in Brazil.

Now I sense we might be reaching the end game, though the pilots are still being held and, it's clear, the authorities are seriously worried that releasing the pilots will further rile up the very angry Brazilian air traffic controllers, who have been creating massive air-traffic delays in a month-long protest over poor and unsafe working conditions that began in the aftermath of the Sept. 29 disaster.

But developments in Brazil are moving fast. No longer does it create a virtual international incident to suggest that, as many pilots have told me, the Brazilian air-traffic control system is broken and badly in need of repair. The official in charge of all air traffic control centers and his No. 2 man were both fired last week by Brazil's president, and there's speculation in the media that the Defense Minister, President Lula's good friend "Wonderful" Waldir Pires, himself will be out soon.

Anyone who knows anything about aviation accidents figures that disasters like this are usually caused by a series of events, some human and some technological, some small and some not so small. But it's now also clear that the core problem on Sept. 29 was a series of air-traffic-control mistakes that put both planes on a direct collision course.

If you're plowing through these very long posts regularly, that says you're awfully interested in what happened. If you want to read what a lot of the real experts -- pilots and other aviation professionals -- are saying, let me suggest a smart forum called Professional Pilots Rumour Network. (Click "Rumours and News"). Normally, I'd be hesitant to publicize this site because I'd be afraid of siccing the crazies on them. But the crazies (ever alert are they) are already in there posting their batty anti-American comments along with the serious aviation professionals. Luckily the forum is well-supervised and most of its particpants were raised well by their parents. It makes for very interesting reading, especially if you're looking for discourse on the technical aspects of the accident. I read it just to learn more from the experts, whether factually or in informed speculation. I wouldn't think of posting anything on it myself.

O.K. Now here are a few news updates from and about this situation in Brazil. (Also, if you're planning to travel to Brazil, air-traffic perils aren't the only thing you need to be concerned about. See two items just off the police blotter at the end of this post.)

--IFATCA, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Associations, has issued a strong statement deriding authorities' assertions that Brazilian air-traffic-control is a world-class operation.

"IFATCA believes that operators in the air (the pilots) and on the ground (the controllers) fell victim to unacceptable systems traps brought on by 'non-error-tolerant' and 'bad system design' of air traffic control and flight equipment in use. We are confident that our statements concerning this equipment are accurate, and said equipment is responsible for starting the fatal chain of events of Sept. 29, 2006..." the statement says in part.

Decrying the ongoing "counterproductive blame game," the group called for the pilots' release. "IFATCA urges the Brazilian authorities to release immediately the two U.S. pilots held in Brazil," it said, adding "Incarceration without justification will do little to foster an environment of mutual trust and respect that is needed to carry out a successful investigation."

The full statement can be found at

[And yes, I will soon learn how to make a live link on this blog. Sorry.]

-- Brazilians are bracing for further air-travel delays as the controllers continue their protests and as the holiday and summer travel seasons approach. (The start of summer coincides with the year-end holidays in the southern hemisphere). "The turbulence is going to get worse," Rodrigo Rangel writes in the weekly Isto E. The controllers protest "is placing Brazil and its average annual traffic of 83 million passengers on the list of the most dangerous places in the world for landings, takeoffs and transit in the air, according to international organizations of aeronautical control."

Isto E mentioned a couple of recent so-called "near misses," including a very embarrassing one on Nov. 13 when a TAM commercial flight was suddenly ordered to take evasive action to avoid colliding with "Wonderful" Waldir Pires' Air Force Lear jet near Brasilia.

The Isto E report goes on to note that Brazil currently has 2,600 air traffic controllers. Fifteen years ago, it had 3,200 -- and air traffic has doubled since then.

The Isto E story quotes by name an official of the air traffic controllers association, a sergeant who spoke of the "system's collapse with the saturation of our air space, our control capacity and our human resources."

-- The weekly Epoca reports:
"Pilots and flight controllers report that the transmission frequencies are 'of lousy qualilty' between Brasilia and Manaus. 'Starting at a milestone known as Teres (approximately 480 kilometers north of Brasilia) there is a real blackout,' said the pilot of a large airline company. 'It only ends when the plane approaches Manaus.'"
Epoca adds: "This is precisely the area above the region of Serra do Cachimbo where the collision between the Gol Boeing and the Legacy Jet took place."

--From Veja, Brazil's largest magazine, November 25: ... "The route between Brasilia and Manaus has so-called "dead areas," in which radio voice communications are inoperative for up to 15 minutes. In other words, the pilots and flight controllers do not get in contact. The radars have blind zones -- Brazil spent $1.4 billion on the Vigilance System of Amazonia [my note, this is partly a system, built by Raytheon, for detecting airborne drug traffic] but there are still blind zones in the Amazon region in which the radar does not manage to detect the planes in the sky. The accident with Gol Boeing occurred in one of these blind zones. Parts of radar that cover other regions have more than 20 years of use and do not receive adequate maintenance. ..."

--And if you think air-traffic control chaos is the only thing to worry about if you're traveling in Brazil, consider these items just off the police blotter:

--Sunday, November 26 -- A group of 18 British tourists were robbed of all their hand luggage just minutes after leaving the airport while still in the bus that was taking them to their hotel in Copacabana Saturday night. They were on their way to the hotel when their bus was cut off by a vehicle with four men inside. After cutting in front of the bus, three men who identified themselves as policemen ordered the bus driver to open the door. The driver told police that one of the robbers was carrying a grenade while the others had a gun. Once inside the bus their first action was to hit one of the tourists with the gun butt. They then proceeded to take all the hand luggage the tourists were carrying. (My note: This is the third time this year that an airport-hotel shuttle carrying tourists has been robbed in a similar manner).


--RIO DE JANEIRO, November 24 (Xinhua) -- Brazilian police on Friday found the body of a kidnapped Italian entrepreneur Vicenzo Nazzaro on the floor of an apartment in downtown Blumenau, in the southern state of Santa Catarina. ... The 55-year-old Nazzaro, who owned 42 properties in Santa Catarina, was kidnapped along with his sister-in-law on Thursday evening after arriving at the airport in the state's capital of Florianopolis. Two men, who identified themselves as federal agents, pretended to have orders to arrest the entrepreneur and the woman, and took them to the apartment in Blumenau. They demanded $200,000 from Nazzaro. The sister-in-law was sent to another town to get the money but did not return in time to prevent the visiting entrepreneur from being murdered.



Lots of news from Brazil today, where some of the more important publications have really got cracking on the problems with Brazilian air traffic control and the ensuing coverups. I'll post some excerpts later today after I get decent translations.

I get a lot of questions about where the pilots are and how they're doing. So here's a look at the two American pilots living large in detainment at Copacabana beach in Rio, thanks to good old today. Also, don't miss the truly wonderful quote at the end from who else but Wonderful Waldir.

American Pilots Detained in Brazil Don't Appreciate Presidential Suite
Written by Francesco Neves
Sunday, 26 November 2006
Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, the American pilots of the Legacy executive jet, which collided on September 29 with Gol's Boeing 737 over the Brazilian Amazon resulting in the death of all 154 people aboard, may be housed in the presidential suite of a five-star hotel in the glamorous beach of Copacabana, but they don't seem even for a second to be enjoying the compulsory vacation courtesy of the Brazilian authorities.

Lepore and Paladino have had their American passport confiscated and they have been forced to stay confined in Rio's JW Marriott hotel.

The pilots have been spending most of their time, according to hotel workers, locked inside their room watching TV, surfing the Internet and talking to friends and relatives in the Net or the telephone.

The [hotel] ... offers breathtaking views of the Sugar Loaf and the Corcovado and Copacabana beach is just across de street from their room, the Yankees keep their curtains closed. Although the Marriott also has several restaurants ... as well as a swimming pool, sauna and a fitness center, the two pilots seem to be enjoying none of that.

Their employer, New-York-based ExcelAire, the air-taxi company that bought the Legacy involved in the accident, is picking up the tab. The bill has already surpassed $115,000 with the hotel charging a $2,000 daily rate. Food, laundry and other expenses are all extra. The Brazilian contribution: they have been kept on a 24-hour watch.

... Theo Dias, the pilot's lawyer, ... told Brazilian reporters: "Everybody is talking a lot about the trauma air traffic controllers are going through, but the same is happening to the pilots. And in their case they are in a foreign country, far from their families and insecure in regard to their future."

... In the Marriott's top floor, the 17th, where Lepore and Paladino are staying, security guards in the corridor maintain an around-the-clock vigil to prevent the presence of any stranger. A black cloth covers a window to the corridor in a way that people cannot see from outside what's going on at that floor.

In their classically-decorated 970-sq-feet suite the pilots have two living rooms, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a kitchen. The place is reserved under their name until December 15.

Meanwhile, Brazilian Defense Minister, Waldir Pires, who has taken center stage in the whole affair of the planes collision and its aftermath, a chaotic situation the airports, continues issuing almost daily declarations.

This Saturday, November 25, Pires denied that the ousting of lieutenant-brigadier Paulo Roberto Cardoso Vilarinho from the Decea (Air Space Control Department) had anything to do with the current crisis in the aviation sector in Brazil.

"The leadership change," he told reporters in São Paulo, "is a routine measure." Vilarinho who had been clashing with the minister was until Friday, Brazil's air space honcho. Pires once again denied that Brazil has blind spots in its communication network.

"The information I have," he said, "is that these black holes don't exist. I am not an expert, but the Air Force has these data. If the holes existed I'm sure I would have been informed. This is my expectation at least." ...


Saturday, November 25, 2006



This just in, via (And I have no idea what they think the word "digladiated" means):

[[OOPS: Later note: Turns out the translator for speaks better English than I do. Websters Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines "degladiate" as "to fight like gladiators, to contend fiercely, to dispute violently." Far as I'm concerned, it's a keeper. Thanks to Jason Smith for pointing this out.]]

{{And appended to the bottom of story,an excerpt from today's O Globo, in which air traffic controllers say that despite the authorities' assurances that there are no "blind" zones in Amazon air-traffic control coverage, there is in fact a "'blind, deaf and mute zone' in the Amazon, when you lose absolutely all contact with the aircrafts."}}

So who ya gonna believe, the authorities scrambling to protect turf and access to the honeypot of an ATC budget, or the hard-working air traffic controllers lyin' eyes?

Anyway, here's the story:

Written by Rodolfo Espinoza
Saturday, 25 November 2006

After watching the country's air crisis from a distance while his Defense Minister, Air Force commander and flight controllers digladiated and brought Brazil's commercial aviation to its knees, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva decided to intervene in the chaos.

And started by firing Paulo Roberto Cardoso Vilarinho, the Air Space Control Department (Decea) chief, the man in charge of all the air traffic control centers in the country. The cleaning up included the Decea's second in command, vice-director major brigadier Ailton dos Santos Pohlmann.

While there is talk in Brasília that Defense Minister Waldir Pires is next in the line of sacking he is still being backed by the government since the firing decision published in the Diário Oficial (Daily Gazette) this Friday, November 24, sported his signature.

Vilarinho's decision to quarter Brasília's controllers preventing them from leaving the control tower for days when they staged a work-to-rule campaign, earlier this month, coupled with his opposition to a bigger role for civilians in the Brazilian air controlling structure made his continuance in the post untenable. Flight controllers have been staging a not so-silent rebellion against him.

To temporarily fill up the two vacated positions were chosen major-brigadier Paulo Hortênsio Albuquerque Silva, the chief of the Third Comar (Regional Air Command) and major-brigadier Ramon Borges Cardoso, who was serving as chief of cabinet for Air Force commander, Luiz Carlos Bueno, another man who has been at odds with the Defense Minister.

Minister Pires and just-fired Vilarinho have something in common though: both agree that the Brazilian air space has no blind spots. Something that the air controllers vehemently dispute.

In testimonies given the Federal Police in the last few days 13 flight controllers insisted that Brazil not only has a blind zone, it has what they called a "blind, deaf and mute" zone in the Amazon, an area in which no contact is possible between the control tower and airplanes.

On another aerial front, the Military Justice's general prosecutor, Giovanni Rattacaso accused the president of the Air Traffic Controllers Brazilian Association, Wellington Rodrigues, of promoting "terrorism" in order to hide mistakes made by air controllers in the case involving Brazil's worst air accident ever, the collision between a Boeing 737 and a Legacy executive jet, that resulted in the death of the 154 people inside the Boeing.

Rattacaso is in charge of investigating the investigations being made by the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) on possible mistakes made by their own personnel, since air control in Brazil is an attribution of the FAB.

According to Rattacaso, Rodrigues was the Cindacta's 1 (Brasília's Air Control Center) supervisor on September 29, the day the Boeing tragedy occurred, but he wasn't at his post at the time of the accident.

Rattacaso says that he has reason to believe that the work-to-rule campaign unleashed just before the All Souls Day holiday (November 2), was planned by Rodrigues to "divert the attention from his conduct in the case, imputing the accident to an air control system mistake." And adds: "He is involved in this case and there is also evidence that he is guilty."

Rodrigues says in his defense that the day of the accident he was only working as instructor of novice air controllers and vows to sue the prosecutor for what he calls groundless charges.


...In addition, soon after the accident involving the Gol Boeing and the Legacy, which occurred on September 29 killing 154 people, Vilarinho stated there are no shadow areas in the country's air traffic control. He added there is no black hole in the area where the collision took place.

But the 13 flight controllers of the centers of São José dos Campos (SP) and Brasília, in depositions to the Federal Police in the last four days, stated that there is a "blind, deaf and mute" zone in the Amazon, when you lose absolutely all contact with the aircrafts.


Meanwhile, while these characters play whack-a-mole, the two American pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, remain in custody in Rio. It is now Day 57.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


For those of you who manage to slog through these long posts following this Brazil saga, I promise to learn how to link here rather than cut and paste. Over the weekend. Meanwhile, this, from O Estado de S Paulo via the online magazine

Brazilian Air Tragedy: Legacy's Controller Isn't Fit for the Post
Written by Francesco Neves
Thursday, 23 November 2006
The Brazilian air traffic controller who was monitoring the Legacy executive jet that collided on September 29 with a Boeing 737 killing all 154 people aboard wasn't prepared for the job and had been just rushed into the position by insistence of the military brass, against the objection of his instructor who didn't agree with the arrangement.

This new piece of information is being published today, November 23, by the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, which says that the Brazilian Air Force authorities' insistence in approving new flight controllers due to the serious lack of staff may have led to Brazil's air tragedy ever.

The controller in charge of the Legacy, which was piloted by two Americans, says the newspaper, after interviewing other flight controllers from Brasília, had little hands-on experience and had received his certification earlier this year, well after his class's colleagues.

Instructors have been critical of a system that puts pressure on them to let controllers pass the exam even when they are not ready for the demanding job.

... Commenting on the man responsible for the Legacy, a Brasília instructor said that he was not up to the task:

"Not because he was incompetent but because he was someone who had difficulty concentrating. Several times he was warned that he couldn't be that absentminded. This is not his fault, but it is a character trait that in normal circumstances would have prevented him from being qualified for the post. However, after much insistence, he managed to be approved."

And he added: "During his instruction, it was evident that he was slow, but this the kind of work that requires agility."

Even after the Boeing tragedy, some controllers disclosed, the Air Force continued trying to bring unqualified Air Defense sergeants to work in the civilian air traffic control. More recently, however, instructors are refusing to accept those who have not enough training.

"This is not an English language course that you can increase the number of classes so that people can learn faster. Here, each dot represents 150 lives," says the instructor.

Another information that just came to light is that at the time of the collision between the Legacy and the Boeing the air traffic controllers' supervisor at the Brasília tower, also known as Cindacta 1, wasn't at his post. The men in the tower had no supervision because the lieutenant who should be there had to take over for an Air Force chief at the main control room.

The Air Force is not making any comment on this absence, maintaining that the details of what happened in the control tower on September 29 are object of official investigation.

They also refuse to talk about reports that the controller in charge of the small jet was not qualified for the task. Defense Minister, Waldir Pires, however, repeated this Wednesday, November 22, that all professionals in the Brazilian air traffic control are fully qualified.



This just in from down the rabbit hole, home of cracked logic and egregious contradictions that go utterly unchallenged, the land where nobody's responsible for nothing. Warning, this could make your head hurt. From today's O Globo in Brazil:

O Globo 23 November

Flight controllers say: there is a blind spot

Evandro Éboli, Brasília – The 13 flight controllers who were working in the towers of São José dos Campos (SP) and Brasília on the day of the collision between the Gol Boeing and the Legacy jet assured, in a deposition taken by the Federal Police, that there is in fact a blind spot, an area where radio communication is difficult, in the Amazon Region, where the accident happened. The information contradicts what the Air Force and the Minister of Defense, Waldir Pires, have been saying since the disaster, which happened on the 29th of September.

Lawyer Normando Augusto Cavalcanti, hired by the Brazilian Association of Flight Controllers to defend the 13 controllers, said yesterday that the existence of a blind spot is an unanimity between the professionals. Normando says they did not fail, and have no responsibility whatsoever for the accident. The lawyer pointed out two hypothesis for the cause of the collision between the airplanes: induction of error due to problem in the communication system, or error of the Legacy pilots. He says the controllers did everything they were supposed to do.

"They didn't do anything wrong at all. There was no perception of the collision. The two airplanes were within their (flight) plans".

[MY NOTE: The Legacy was indisputabily NOT within its flight plan, which would have had it at 36,000 feet beyond Brasilia. It was flying under flight controller instructions, which take precedence over a filed flight plan, at 37,000 feet, where the collision happened after the Legacy made 19 unsuccessful attempts to reach air traffic control.]

Computer may have induced error

Declaration of Air Force commander was "upsetting"

Brasília – According to lawyer Normando Cavalcanti, the controllers told the Federal Police that the induction of error may have been caused by the computer software. He said it isn't a defect, but rather an imperfection in the adjustment of the radar, which can lead to a mistake about the exact position of the aircraft. ...

The lawyer also said that the seven unsuccessful attempts of contact by the Brasília controllers with the Legacy before the collision were "more than necessary".

[MY NOTE: The 154 people who died might disagree with that].

"For them, the Legacy knew what to do, and they believed it was at 36 thousand feet, as the flight plan established. They trusted the primary radar, as established in the code. ... The lawyer said that everyone is being heard in the condition of witness, and not as suspects.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Here is the first preliminary report on the Sept. 29 accident issued by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which had not planned to address these matters until the Brazilians issued their final report. With their air system suffering severe delays Monday and Tuesday from an air traffic controllers work slowdown and protest, Brazilian authorities asked the NTSB to publish what it knows so far. Under normal procedures, the NTSB's reports would not be released until the Brazilians conclude their own investigation, a process that is expected to take at least ten more months.

It's very technical, but those of you who have been closely following this case will find that the NTSB flatly states that the Legacy pilots were not fooling around in the sky, as some top Brazilian authorities have recklessly charged. The report also contains findings that suggest a breakdown in Brazilian air traffic control radio and radar contact over the Amazon. It confirms that the American pilots made 19 unsuccessful attempts to contact the flight control center at Brasilia in the 10 minutes before the mid-air collision at 37,000 feet with a Brazilian Gol 737 that went down with the loss of 154 lives.

The report also states that the final two-way contact between the Legacy and air traffic control in Brasilia occurred about 40 miles south of Brasilia, when the Legacy pilots "reported on the assigned frequency that the flight was level at 370." [37,000 feet].

This is by no means the definitive report, but the story certainly has become more clear from an official viewpoint. And the American pilots are still being detained in Brazil.

NTSB Advisory
National Transportation Safety Board
Washington, DC 20594
November 22, 2006

The government of Brazil has asked the National Transportation Safety Board to disseminate the following factual information on the progress of its investigation into a midair collision over the Brazilian Amazon jungle on September 29, 2006, between a Boeing 737-800 (PR-GTD) operated by Gol Airlines of Brazil, and an Embraer Legacy 600 business jet (N600XL) owned and operated by Excelaire of Long Island, New York.
The accident investigation is being conducted under the authority of the Brazilian Aeronautical Accident Prevention and Investigation Center (DIPAA). Under the provisions of ICAO Annex 13, the United States, as state of registry and operator of the Excelaire Legacy, and state of manufacture of the Boeing 737 and Honeywell avionics equipment in both airplanes, has provided an accredited representative and technical advisors for the investigation. The U.S. team includes the accredited representative from the major aviation accident investigations division of the NTSB, as well as technical advisors in operations, systems, air traffic control, flight recorders, and aircraft performance. Additional technical advisors from Boeing, Excelaire, Honeywell, and FAA have also been included.

The accident occurred about 4:57 pm Brasilia standard time. The Boeing 737 was destroyed by in-flight breakup and impact forces; all 154 occupants were fatally injured. The wreckage of the 737 was located in remote jungle terrain with very difficult access. Brazilian military search and rescue personnel have located the flight recorders and all significant portions of the wreckage except the outer portion of the left wing. The Legacy N600XL experienced damage to its left wing and left horizontal stabilizer and performed an emergency landing at the Cachimbo Air Base, approximately 60 miles northwest of the collision site. There was no further damage to the airplane, and the 2 crew members and 5 passengers were not injured. The airplane remained at the base and significant components have been tested and recovered from the aircraft.

Visual meteorological conditions prevailed in the area of the accident. Both aircraft were operating on instrument flight rules, on instrument flight plans and clearances. The Boeing 737 was a scheduled domestic air carrier flight enroute from the Eduardo Gomes International Airport, Manaus, Brazil; to the Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek Airport, Brasilia. The Legacy N600XL was enroute from the Prof. Urbano Ernesto Stumpf airport, San Jose dos Campos, Brazil (SBSJ), to a stopover in Manaus, and eventually enroute back to the U.S. This was Excelaire's initial flight with this aircraft, taking delivery from the Embraer factory and a planned flight to Excelaire's home base in New York.

History of flights:

The Legacy N600XL departed SBSJ at about 2:51 pm. The filed flight plan included a routing via the OREN departure procedure to Pocos beacon, then airway UW2 to Brasilia VOR (BRS), airway UZ6 to Manaus. The cruise altitude was filed as FL370, with a planned change to FL360 at BRS, and to FL380 at the TERES navigational fix, approximately 282 miles north of BRS.

After takeoff, N600XL was issued a number of interim altitudes during climb, all of which were read back. The flight was cleared to proceed direct to Araxa VOR (on airway UW2), and at 3:11 pm was cleared to climb to FL370. At 3:33 pm, the airplane leveled at FL370.

At 3:35 pm, the Boeing 737 departed Eduardo Gomes airport, requesting FL370 as a cruise altitude, and a routing via UZ6 to BRS. The airplane reached FL370 at 3:58 pm. There were no anomalies in communications with or radar surveillance of the Boeing 737 throughout the flight.

At 3:51 pm, an air traffic controller in the Brasilia ACC (CINDACTA 1) instructed N600XL to change frequencies to the next controller's sector. The crew of N600XL reported in on the assigned frequency that the flight was level at FL370. ATC acknowledged and instructed the crew to "ident" (flash their transponder). Radar indicates that the ident was observed. This was the last two-way communication between N600XL and ATC. At this time the airplane was approximately 40 nautical miles south of BRS.

At 3:56pm the Legacy N600XL passed BRS level at FL370. There is no record of a request from N600XL to the control agencies to conduct a change of altitude, after reaching flight level 370. The airplane made calls, but there is no communication in which it requested a change of flight level. There is also no record of any instruction from air traffic controllers at Brasilia Center to the aircraft, directing a change of altitude.

When the airplane was about 30 miles north-northwest of BRS, at 4:02 pm, the transponder of N600XL was no longer being received by ATC radar. A transponder reports a unique code, aiding radar identification, and provides an accurate indication of the airplane's altitude. Additionally, the transponder is a required component for the operation of Traffic Collision Avoidance System equipment, commonly called the TCAS system.

Between 3:51 pm and 4:26 pm, there were no attempts to establish radio communications from either the crew of N600XL or ATC. At 4:26 pm the CINDACTA 1 controller made a "blind call" to N600XL. Subsequently until 4:53 pm, the controller made an additional 6 radio calls attempting to establish contact. The 4:53 call instructed the crew to change to frequencies 123.32 or 126.45. No replies were received.

There is no indication that the crew of N600XL performed any abnormal maneuvers during the flight. Flight Data Recorder information indicates that the airplane was level at FL370, on course along UZ6, and at a steady speed, until the collision. Primary (non-transponder) radar returns were received corresponding to the estimated position of N600XL until about 4:30 pm. For 2 minutes, no returns were received, then returns reappeared until 4:38 pm. After that time, radar returns were sporadic.

Beginning at 4:48 pm, the crew of N600XL made a series of 12 radio calls to ATC attempting to make contact. At 4:53, the crew heard the call instructing them to change frequencies, but the pilot did not understand all of the digits, and requested a repeat. No reply from ATC was received. The pilot made 7 more attempts to establish contact.At 4:56:54 pm the collision occurred at FL370, at a point about 460 nautical miles north-northwest of BRS, on airway UZ6.

There was no indication of any TCAS alert on board either airplane, no evidence of pre-collision visual acquisition by any flight crew member on either aircraft, and no evidence of evasive action by either crew.

Wreckage and damage examination indicates that it is likely the left winglet of the Legacy (which includes a metal spar) contacted the left wing leading edge of the Boeing 737. The impact resulted in damage to a major portion of the left wing structure and lower skin, ultimately rendering the 737 uncontrollable. Flight recorder information ceased at an approximate altitude of 7,887 feet.

After the collision, the crew of N600XL made numerous further calls to ATC declaring an emergency and their intent to make a landing at the Cachimbo air base. At 5:02 pm, the transponder returns from N600XL were received by ATC.

At 5:13 pm, an uninvolved flight crew assisted in relaying communications between N600XL and ATC until the airplane established communication with Cachimbo tower.

Investigative activities completed to date:

Flight recorders from both airplanes were recovered and downloaded at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) laboratories. Transcriptions of the cockpit voice recorders (CVRs) were prepared (the transcript of the Legacy's CVR was produced at the NTSB's laboratory in Washington, D.C.) and data from flight data recorders obtained.

Initial interviews and medical examinations were conducted with the crew of the Legacy. Air Traffic Control data was gathered. Preliminary tests of the avionics equipment on the Legacy were performed. Wreckage of the 737 was examined.

Future investigative activity:

Additional investigative work will include laboratory tests of the avionics components removed from the Legacy, an examination of the operating procedures of the avionics, interviews with ATC personnel, examination of ATC practices and comparison between Brazilian and FAA procedures, a technical examination of ATC communication and surveillance systems, and further examination of the training provided to the operators.

The Investigator in Charge estimates a 10-month timeline for the investigation. The first phase, data gathering is estimated to take approximately 45 days, although some further data gathering remains to be completed. Analysis of the data is estimated to take 90 days followed by a preliminary report with conclusions 120 days afterward. Preparation of the final report and review by involved parties and States is estimated at a further 30 days each.

Brazilian Contact: Brazilian Aeronautical Accident Prevention& Investigation Center 55-61-3329-9160


You’d be surprised at some of the reaction I’ve been getting to my steady criticisms of Brazilian authorities for detaining those two American pilots involved in the horrendous Sept. 29 mid-air collision.

It can be summarized this way: "Payback for Guantanamo! Serves them right for being Americans."

This is a consistent theme among some nitwits in Brazil -- obviously a small, organized segment -- who could care less about the pilots or even the 154 other innocent people who died, and are only interested in invoking cheap irony (Payback!) in the service of anti-American hysteria. Much of that campaign appears orchestrated, as hundreds of hate e-mails I get from Brazil conclude with the same two sentences (only one of which I dispute): "You are such a shit of a journalist!" and "We have no Guantanamo in Brazil."

I need to add here that I also am getting a lot of sensible feedback from intelligent Brazilians who are appalled by how this airplane accident investigation has gone off the tracks, and how it has exposed very dangerous flaws in the Brazilian air-traffic system.

But I’ve been appalled to hear the same theme -- "Payback for Guantanamo!" -- from a few people in the U.S. who basically are saying smugly "The pilots got what the U.S. deserved."

This is the logic of death squads in Darfur and Iraq, not of civilized people. The U.S. government has been severely denounced, here and abroad, for the atrocities of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the Iraq war in general.

These two pilots are not instruments of American imperialism. They're a couple of straight-shooting family guys from Long Island who are being railroaded for political reasons.

In Brazil the issue is this:

Two American pilots involved in a fatal mid-air accident have been held for 53 days without charge and without a shred of evidence. They're confined to a hotel in Rio, and judges have twice denied their appeals to have their passports returned.

Meanwhile, the Air Force, which runs Brazilian Air Traffic Control and has its fingers in its honeypot of a budget, is investigating itself, in an inquiry that authorities say might take as long as a year to conclude. Authorities have said the American pilots, Joe Lepore, 42, and Jan Paladino, 34, will be detained in Brazil until that inquiry is finished.

And in what I regard as a deliberate tantrum being thrown as a warning to Brazilian authorities not to even consider blaming Air Traffic Control for its obvious derelictions in the Sept. 29 crash, controllers have been staging work slowdowns that are snarling air travel throughout Brazil. If you're planning a trip to Rio soon, my advice would be: Hold off for a while, unless you like sleeping in airports.

Yesterday, the Brazilian defense minister, Wonderful Waldir Pires, who until recently was publicly repeating the batty charge that the collision was caused by the American pilots doing "stunt maneuvers" in the Amazon skies to show off the newly purchased, Brazilian-made $25 million Legacy 600, seemed to have been struck by a fleeting moment of coherence. He actually conceded that an air traffic controller in Sao Jose dos Campos, where the Legacy took off from, instructed the Legacy to remain at 37,000 feet all the way to its destination in Manaus.

At the next air traffic control center in Brasilia, the American pilots tried 19 times to reach ATC by radio and were unable to do so. Thus, according to universally accepted international aviation protocols, they continued flying at 37,000 feet. At the same time, a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 was under orders from the air traffic control center in Manaus, its departure point, to maintain 37,000 feet -- which put the two planes on the fatal collision course.

Wonderful Waldir tried to explain this away, saying the American pilots should have followed a pre-flight written flight plan that had them dropping to 36,000 feet past Brasilia. But aviation protocols the world over say you fly at the last altitude you were assigned by ATC, and the last altitude the Legacy was assigned to by ACT order was 37,000 feet.

The Brazilian Senate has been conducting hearings into the current air traffic mess that sometimes venture into the uncomfortable area of the Sept. 29 crash. Yesterday, Brigadier Luiz Carlos Bueno, the Air Force commander, allowed as how a glitch had occurred at the Brasilia ATC center on Sept. 29 when two controllers – handing over duties during a shift change – made an incorrect assumption that the Legacy was at 36,000 feet, in line with the filed flight plan.

The controller on the new shift then passed that information along to Manaus ATC, said Brigadier Bueno. There was no voice contact with the Legacy, whose pilots, as I said, tried 19 times, unsuccessfully, to get through to ATC in Brasilia. Cockpit recordings and other data prove this, incidentally. Like the batty "stunt maneuvers in the sky" charge, this is no longer in dispute.

Now, there is some serious speculation that a cockpit electronic communications device called a transponder might have been malfunctioning on the Legacy and possibly even on the 737, though no one has yet offered evidence of this. But pilots and other experts – many of whom say the vast Amazon skies are notorious for dead radio and radar zones, not to mention idle ATC chatter in Portuguese -- have told me that a malfunctioning transponder itself would not have caused the crash. It simply would have made it more likely, once air traffic control began screwing big time up on the ground.

The newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo today quotes Brigadier Bueno as saying, “The controller believed that the plane was at 360 [36,000 feet]. It was a false piece of information but he did not believe that it was false.”

Please read that once more to get a flavor of this investigation.

The newspaper said it had learned that the 20-year-old controller in question was inexperienced and technically not cleared to work without supervision, and on duty only to plug holes in ATC staffing. "The first controller let the jet pass Brasilia without checking the foreseen change of altitude" as written in the flight plan, Folha said. "The second deduced that the data," referring just to the flight plan, "were correct or already checked," he said.

About a dozen flight controllers working at the ATC centers in Brasilia and Sao Jose during the time of the crash have been suspended. This is one of the reasons air traffic controllers all over Brazil are now tying up air travel in protest. But another, quite related reason for the protest is air traffic controllers have been complaining for years that they are overworked, badly paid and poorly supervised by a dysfunctional Air Force bureaucracy, and they're fighting back now.

The suspended controllers, in a legal fight with their bosses, "will seek to show that the Brazilian air control works precariously" and that controllers work "under precarious conditions," Folha said. Nearly all flight controllers in Brazil belong to the military. Besides long hours at ATC, they are also required to march in formation and do guard duty, like all good soldiers. Many also have second jobs. Several, for example, drive taxis to make ends meet.

Brigadier Bueno and Wonderful Waldir are in a bit of a fix here, as air travel in Brazil has been booming in recent years. They're in a jam especially now, as the heavy summer travel season approaches in the southern hemisphere, and the biggest country in South America is experiencing air-travel chaos.

Brigadier Bueno insists all is well, despite those disgruntled air traffic controllers and those thousands of people sleeping in airport terminals. "Passengers don’t need to worry," said Brigadier Bueno.

Meanwhile, aviation and travel organizations are finally making noise over the unwarranted detention of the American pilots, and the precedent it sets for criminalizing aviation accidents.

Incidentally, I've noticed that Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva has remained very, very far away from this stink bomb. Shortly after the crash, Lucky Lula was handily re-elected in what had been a very hotly contested run-off election.

Here's a letter the National Business Aviation sent to Lucky Lula the other day:

November 20, 2006
Excelentíssimo Senhor
Luís Inácio Lula da Silva
Presidente da República Federativa do Brasil
Praça dos Três Poderes
Palácio do Planalto
3o andar 70.150-900
DF Brasil
Dear Mr. President:
This letter requests your immediate action to secure the return to the United States of two American pilots being detained in your country in conjunction with the tragic accident between a business aircraft and a Gol Airlines aircraft on September 29th.

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) supports a thorough, fair, accurate and transparent investigation into the accident. We expect nothing less.
It is our understanding that the pilots and their attorneys have fully cooperated with investigators from your government. Yet, despite their cooperation, the pilots are being held in contravention of internationally recognized practices and with no date certain for their release. This is an unacceptable situation that must not continue.

Based on the public reports of the accident, it is clear there was no intentional wrongdoing in this case. Preventing the pilots from returning to the United States is neither appropriate nor beneficial to the investigation.

NBAA urges your prompt intervention in this matter so that the pilots can be returned home in time for the holidays.

Thank you for your time and assistance with this critically important issue.

Mr. Ed Bolen
President & CEO
National Business Aviation Association

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Brazil's largest newspaper, O Estado de S. Paulo, has a beauty of a quote online today from Wonderful Waldir Pires, the Brazilian defense minister who has done more frantic tap-dancing in the last month than Bill "Bojangles" Robinson did in a year.

Wonderful Waldir & Co. are in charge of Brazil's air traffic system and its air traffic controllers (not to mention its honeypot of a budget). The controllers have been in something approaching a state of rebellion all month over the merest suggestion that ATC might have some responsibility for the Sept. 29 mid-air disaster over the Amazon. They're continuing work slowdowns that are creating massive flight delays at some airports. What, I wonder, will they do if and when the finger of blame actually points at ATC? Oh no! There goes Carnival!

Anyway, Wonderul Waldir, summoned by the Brazilian Senate to account for the ongoing mess in Brazil's air-travel system, was also asked about the Sept. 29 accident. He conceded that air traffic control in Sao Jose dos Campos gave the Legacy 600 private jet the order to fly to its destination, Manaus, at 37,000 feet all the way. Here's what he said:

"The controller of the small airport in Sao Jose dos Campos used inadequate language. He said the following to the pilot: 'You go up to 37,000 feet and fly until Manaus'."

The newspaper added, "The minister believed this lack of clearness can have contributed to the collision."

Sounds pretty clear to me. Both the Legacy and the Gol 737 that went down with 154 on board were under instruction from separate air-traffic centers to fly at 37,000 feet, which is where they were when they collided over the jungle between Brasilia and Manaus. As a Brazilian Air Force inspector told me with a sad shrug at the air base in Cachimbo the day after the Legacy made its emergency landing: "It's simple physics."

Meanwhile, the two American pilots of the Legacy remain detained in Brazil. It's Day 53.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Well they assembled the always respectful media and issued their "preliminary report" in Brazil today, and except for some factotum saying the investigation would take another 10 months, there is nothing new there down the rabbit hole in Wonderland. Certainly no one in Brazil can be responsible for this disaster! Thus evidence must be found to support the denial that air traffic control in Brazil caused this crash. That could take months. Ten months, in fact. Now everybody go away! Off with you all, you are annoying us with these infernal questions!

See yesterday's post here for ... uh, an update on today's news.

Meanwhile, I love those clueless wire service stories (and yes, A.P., I am talking about you -- Reuters actually tried to make sense of the story) saying the investigation report concluded that the Legacy was flying at a different altitude than its filed flight plan. WE HAVE KNOWN THAT FOR WEEKS. The Legacy was at 37,000 feet because Air Traffic Control instructed it to remain at that altitude. We have also known THAT for some weeks now, but I guess the A.P. needed a lede. This business used to hire people who were curious to follow a story. Now they evidently are hiring stenographers.

The two American pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, remain held hostage in Brazil to this political absurdity.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


A preliminary report on the Sept. 29 mid-air collision that's due to be issued tomorrow in Brazil will be sketchy and imprecise, according to outside investigators who have seen it. It will also be cleverly crafted to not directly assign blame to Air Traffic Control in Brazil, which is run by the Air Force -- which in turn is conducting the investigation.

So take the Air Force report for what it's worth. Nothing.

But remember, these are the guys, led by the Brazilian defense minister, the Wonderful Waldir Pires, who have regularly accused me of covering up for the private jet pilots who purportedly did "daredevil" stunts in the skies -- which purportedly caused the mid-air collision at 37,ooo feet that killed 154 over over the Amazon.

OOPS! Tomorrow's preliminary report, you will see, will address none of that. Turns out, you will see, that was just not true. Instead, the report -- having simply ignored the loony loop-d-loops charge, supports Wonderful Walidr's contention that, as far as he could see, everybody but his Air Force and its splendid first-world air traffic control system was to blame.

Independent U.S. and other world investigators have accees to the black boxes, radar data and other hard technolocal information in the crash. They are constrained from talking till the Brazilians get around to issuing final reports (months off, I am told). But many of them believe the Brazilian Air Force is dragging its heels for political reasons. Some ask: How could a purportedly first-world Brazil behave like such an evidently third-world Brazil in an air crash investigation? How are they getting away with this?

Here is what I understand happened in this crash:

1. Neither the Legacy 600 private jet NOR the Gol Airlilnes 737 with which it collided at 37,000 feet over the Amazon between Brasilia and Manaus were following their flight plans. The 737's flight plan called for it to ascend to 39,000 feet just before spot where the collision occurred, while the Legacy's called for a descent to 36,000 feet. But both planes were told to maintain 37,000 feet by air traffic control -- in two different locations that were not in contact with one another. Under all international protocols, ATC instructions take precedence over a filed flight plan. The collision was mostly caused by a major breakdown in communications between ATC centers in Brazil, which are run by the Air Force.

2. A malfunctioning transponder in the Legacy might have -- but this has not yet been proven -- contributed to the fact that air traffic controllers failed to notice that the Legacy and Gol 737 were on a collision course.

3. As I know as well as anyone, since I was on the Legacy, the charge that the two American Legacy pilots were doing aerial stunts or trick maneuvers in the sky is absurd, and will be discounted as such in the preliminary report. The cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder prove that the Legacy was in straight and level flight when it collided with the Gol 737.

4. Cockpit voice recorder tapes -- which the Brazilian Air Force is resisting releasing -- will prove that the Legacy made repeated attempts to reach air traffic control before and after the collision that went unanswered.

5. As international pilots have been telling me for over a month (and even telling newspapers in Brazil), there continue to be gaps and dead zones in Brazilian radar and radio coverage, expecially over the Amazon, despite a recent $1.4 billion project under contract with an American defense contractor to fix the system. The Air Force insists this is not so. The Air Force is incorrect.

6. Pilots readily speak of having to communicate on Brazilian ATC radio through idle chatter by air traffic controllers speaking to each other in Portuguese. The official language of aviation the world over is English. Cockpit voice recorder tapes will show that Brazilian controllers -- many of whom are not fluent in English -- were speaking Portuguese to Brazilian aircraft and, in casual conversations, to each other.

7. The Brazilian Government is in violation of international treaties in detaining and holding as hostages two American pilots, without having charged them or even come up with evidence of a charge.

8. Given the linguistic, organizational and workforce mess in Air Traffic Control in Brazil, it is being argued in the aviation community that American passengers flying to Brazil may be at risk unless the pilots of U.S. airliners flying in Brazil speak Portuguese -- or Brazil cleans up its act in ATC. To the extent that the aviation community publicizes this, it is a direct threat to Brazil's $5 billion a year tourism economy. Already, I am told, travelers are asking travel agents and bookers whether it's safe to fly in Brazil.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


World aviation authorities will be paying close attention to a preliminary report to be released in Brasilia Thursday by Rufino Antonio de Silva Ferreire, who heads one of the most important government agencies investigating the Sept. 29 mid-air collision between a Brazilian airliner and a private jet, in which 154 on the 737 airliner died.

The preliminary report has been characterized as a "just-the-facts" document that will present official information (some of which is already well established and no longer in dispute) about the contacts between the private jet and 737 pilots with control centers in Brasilia and Manaus, the two cities between which the crash occurred at 37,000 feet over the Amazon.

Brazilian military officials, several of whom have suggested that the collision occurred because the pilots of the new Legacy 600 private jet were doing stunt maneuvers in the skies, have also been put on notice by a federal judge to become more transparent in their so-far secret investigation, and to finish up in 30 days. The Brazilian Air Force runs air traffic control and is responsible for investigating accidents.

The pilots and five passengers on the private jet, including me, have consistently insisted the Legacy was flying in a smooth, normal manner when the collision occurred.

A federal judge yesterday ordered the Air Force within 48 hours to hand over to Federal Police in Mato Grosso, the state over which the collision occurred, all of the information it has on the accident, including information on the two airplanes' black box recordings and other flight and air-control data that the Air Force has insisted must be kept secret until its formal investigation is concluded.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian defense minister, Waldir Pires, responded to growing calls for an immediate release of the two American pilots, who have been detained in a Rio hotel since the crash. A lawyer for the pilots has argued that they are being detained, in violation of international law, without either a charge or a presentation of evidence.

According to magazine, Mr. Pires pointed out that a judge, and not the Air Force, was responsible for retaining the pilots passports in a recent ruling on a petition for their release. "Someone who knows a democratic society should also know that the government cannot interfere in a judicial order," said Mr. Pires.


My opinion is that sound reason and good international sense are coming together. While I couldn't venture a guess as to when the pilots might be released, it seems to me that authorities in Brazil -- where emotions were understandably heated after the crash -- realize that this unnecessary standoff benefits no one -- not politically, legally or emotionally.

Not to mention the implications for Brazilan leisure and business travel: Is this a country where you can be suddenly siezed and detained, without evidence, because a plane crashed? Brazilian travel-industry officials need to consider this.

A thorough, honest and transparent investigation, if that is what now ensues, will provide the answers we all have been looking for, without holding pilots hostage to emotions. Brazil must look to its world-wide reputation.

Monday, November 13, 2006


A federal judge today denied the petition of two American pilots, held in Brazil since the Sept. 29 mid-air collision over the Amazon that killed 154, to be able to leave Brazil while the secret investigations into the crash drag on.

That was predicted here a few days ago, when the absurd charge that the Legacy 600 was doing reckless aerial maneuvers at the time of impact was suddenly revivified in Brazil. The aerial maneuvers charge was revivified just as it was becoming apparent that the pilots were about to be released, after reports that they were flying the private jet at 37,000 feet -- on the same path and altitude as an approaching Brazilian Gol airliner 737 -- under orders from Brazilian air traffic control.

The pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, remain in seclusion in a Rio hotel. Their passports have been confiscated. Their lawyer in Brazil, Theo Dias, said he will appeal the judge's decision on the ground that of all of the professionals involved in the accident, only the American pilots are being detained. Mr. Dias said that this "discriminatory treatment" will be challenged under the principle of habeas corpus, in that authorities have presented no evidence against the pilots to warrant their extended detention.


No, that isn't a typo. I meant to write "ploy" and not "plot."

In a new dispatch from the LoonyLand of Mythical Loop-d-Loops, get a load of this just in from my favorite crazy Brazilian publication (which is not to say it is the only crazy one; they got a country full of them) --

The headline is: "Lawyer Blames U.S. Pilots for Showing Off and Wants to Hear NY Times Reporter"

This latest story says: The American lawyer Manuel von Ribbeck, the senior partner in a law firm that sued the American charter company ExcelAire and its two pilots on behalf of 40 families of victims who died in the horrendous mid-air collision over the Amazon Sept. 29, told Brazilian reporters that "he has enough evidence to prove that the American pilots made risky maneuvers over the Amazon rain forest to show off."

"They were conducting such maneuvers," stated the American lawyer, "because the company ExcelAire was happy with the purchase of the jet and wanted to show off the equipment to journalists and businessmen who were on the flight. Apparently, the Legacy's pilots were making maneuvers, playing over the Amazon in a negligent way, and the government has confirmed this."

It goes on: "Sharkey's piece in the Times recounting his experience in the fateful flight was quite sympathetic to the American pilots' cause and critical of Brazil's authorities and skies management."

First let me reiterate that nothing on this independent blog necessarily reflects the opinions or attitudes of the New York Times, for whom I contribute a weekly freelance column on business travel. This blog has absolutely no connection to the Times.

Now, as to the facts:

1. My piece in the Times was indeed sympathetic to the pilots (and it also expressed the survivors' profound anguish about the dead, once we learned, three hours after we made our emergency landing in the jungle, that a 737 was what hit us). The Legacy pilots' skill and courage saved my butt. But the Times piece said nothing whatsoever about "Brazil's authorities and skies management." A few days later, I made an offhand comment on CNN that Brazilian air traffic control has a shaky reputation among pilots. That's where this whole bandwagon started rolling, and only after that did I begin to realize just what a mess ATC in Brazil actually is.

2. The "journalists" on the flight that was supposedly doing reckless aerial maneuvers to show off the plane's capability consisted of but one, me. I've flown as a passenger in fighter planes and landed on heaving aircraft carrier decks; I've been up with the Blue Angels; I've been on helicopters slicing through palm trees in Vietnam to dodge small-arms fire. Trust me, I know when a plane is doing maneuvers!

As I have consistently said for what seems like ten thousand times since this crash, we in the Legacy were flying straight and narrow, in an utterly normal manner, when the impact occurred. Brazilian Air Force authorities falsely claiming otherwise are simply covering their butts, because they are responsible for air traffic control, and hard evidence will prove that the Legacy was being operated in a normal manner --once the secret investigations are complete months from now.

As to the "businessmen" who purportedly were to be impressed, they consisted of four other passengers. Two were executives of ExcelAire, which had just bought the plane for $25 million, and two were executives of Embraer, which had just sold it for $25 million. I'd say that is the definition of an already done deal. No need to pop some aerial wheelies there to get the customer to sign.

But stand by because Wonderful Waldir Pires, the Defense Minister who has been the most prominent of those making these reckless charges, is about to release his "preliminary report." For all of us who tumbled down the rabbit hole, it ought to be fascinating reading.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


There were strong hints last week that the two American pilots being held hostage in Brazil after a Sept. 29 mid-air collision over the Amazon that killed 154 were going to be released this week.

The reason for that is the Brazilian Air Force, and its boss, the dissembling Defense Minister Waldir Pires, had pretty much run out of excuses for detaining the two pilots while the secret investigations drag on. The Air Force is responsible for air traffic control, as well as for INVESTIGATING aviation accidents.

Prospects for scapegoating the pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, both of Long Island, faded considerably two weeks ago when it became clear that the Legacy 600 business jet that collided with a Gol Airlines 737 was not defying Air Traffic Control orders and was flying at its assigned altitude, 37,000 feet, under orders from Air Traffic Control, which according to all international aviation protocols take precedence over a flight plan filed before takeoff. It so happened that the Gol 737 was also at 37,000 feet flying in exactly the opposite direction, under orders from Air Traffic Control, when the horrible collision occurred over dense jungle between Brasilia and Manaus.

Two weeks ago, ten air controllers who were on duty at the ATC centers in Brasil and Manaus during the crash were asked to testify. They refused, saying they were under psychiatric care. Hundreds of other controllers -- saying they wanted to dramatize workplace stress and major faults with air traffic control in Brazil, as well as to protest what they saw was a shifting the blame to them -- conducted a work slowdown and tied up air traffic in Brazil for over a week.

Mooting the question of pilot error for being at 37,000 feet left only three major plausible causes for the crash (and a host of minor ones, as there always are). The two most likely are egregious air traffic control error, perhaps in combination with a manfunctioning of the Legacy's transponder, a device that helps air traffic controllers to more precisely identify the aircraft that they are already supposedly tracking on radar.

Neither of those causes would allow the Brazilians to reasonably continue holding the pilots as virtual hostages while their interminable overlapping investigations drag on. That left only one excuse: the batty notion, put in play weeks ago by Minister Pires and others, that the American pilots had deliberately turned off their transponder so they could do "trick maneuvers" or "aerial acrobatics" to put their new jet through its paces in the Amazonian skies.

Keep in mind that there will be hard evidence from black boxes and radar to show that this never occurred -- but that evidence has not been released by the secretive Brazilian authorities.

Then last week, the lawsuits began. One of them, filed in New York Thursday by the Chicago law firm Ribbick Law, named the pilots among the defendants, accusing them of acting "carelessly and negligently."

Yup. The asinine charge that the pilots were doing trick maneuvers in the sky has now become part of a legal proceeding. It's Loop-d-Loops in LooneyLand time.

I try to keep myself personally out of this story, while updating you on developments, though obviously I have a strong point of view here. So you can imagine my astonishment when I read the following in a report on the suit that ran, datelined Sao Paulo, Nov. 9, on the Dow Jones news wire:

"The lawyers will seek damages from the pilots, Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino, and from ExcelAire [My note: that's the Long Island air-charter company that had just bought the $25 million Legacy 600 and that employs the two pilots] BASED ON A DEPOSITION FROM NEW YORK TIMES JOURNALIST JOE SHARKEY. SHARKEY'S DEPOSITION ALLEGES THE PILOTS WERE INDULGING IN INAPPROPRIATE MANEUVERS TO TEST THE PLANE. [my caps] That accusation was also made by defense ministry investigators, said Monica Kelly, a partner at Ribbeck Law, during a press conference in Sao Paulo."

In a separate story by the Associated Press that does not mention my apparent psychotic episode as suggested by Dow Jones, Manuel Von Ribbeck, the law firm's senior partner, was quoted as saying: "Someone high up in the Air Force confirmed our theory of negligence by the pilots. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal any names."


Now, if you do a word search on "maneuvers" or "trick" in entries on this blog since I startd writing about this event, you will see that I have consistenty ridiculed as asinine the notion that Joe and Jan were doing trick maneuvers or any other sort of unusual maneuvers at any time on that flight. We flew smooth and steady, in an utterly normal manner, till the time of the impact. In fact I was calmly working on my laptop when the collision occurred.

In questioning during two days of detention in Brazil, first at the jungle airbase in Cachimbo where we managed an emergency landing, and later in an all-night interrogation at a police headquarters in Cuiaba hundreds of miles south, I was emphatic that any suggestion of trick maneuvers was untrue, and I continued to reiterate that in dozens of media interviews after I got home, including one on the major Brazilian T.V. network "Globo" where I answered the question this way, just so there wasn't any doubt: "No, no, no. no, no, no, no! Absolutely not! No, no, no!" Not eloquent, but I thought it drove the point home in simple English to a Portuguese-speaking audience.

I contacted Dow Jones and asked for a correction, which has now run on their news wire. The reporter who covered the press conference in Brazil -- who hadn't tried to contact me for comment before running the story about what I allegedly said in a deposition -- called last night and apologized for "the terrible mistake."

He had not seen my deposition, he said. (Neither have I, incidentally). Attorney Kelly, he said, had mentioned my deposition and made the allegation, "in a room full of reporters," that I accused the pilots of aerial hot-dogging. I may have missed it in the Portuguese press, but so far the only place I have seen that charge has been on the Dow Jones wire.

Now, I worked for Dow Jones at the Wall Street Journal for seven years, and it is a world-class outfit. We all make mistakes in this business, and when we do we correct them in a forthright manner, which is exactly what Dow Jones did last night. It said:

"The story "Victim's Family Sues Honeywell, Excel on Brazil air crash" ... incorrectly stated that Joe Sharkey, a New York Times journalist [My note: I write a freelance weekly business travel column for the paper and am not on staff, and nothing on this blog reflects any endorsement or involvement by the New York Times], alleged the pilots of an ExcelAire jet involved in a midair collision were indulging in inappropriate maneuvers during a deposition to Brazilian authorities. Sharkey has consistently said that the plane was flying in a completely normal manner when the impact occurred."

O.K., fair enough from my perspective.

But a judge is going to rule tomorrow in Brazil on whether the American pilots should be allowed to leave (they're holed up in a Rio hotel under virtual house arrest). And from what I hear through my fairly active grapevine from Brazil, the answer is likely to be no, now that these Flying Circus charges have been revitalized by the air force -- desperate to keep blame from itself -- with the assistance of the Chicago lawyers.

I've seen this coming for some time, as you know. Almost from the start of the investigations, Brazilian authorities have been recklessly talking about "aerial stunts" and "trick maneuvers" by the Legacy pilots, usually asserting that the pilots turned off the transponder solely to try to hide their airborne antics.

On Oct. 4, when the investigation had barely begun, Geraldo Piero, a director of the Federal Police in Mato Grosso, the state where the crash occurred, was one of the first to speak about charging the pilots with a serious crime. Make that, one of the first to suggest the pilots were guilty of a crime.

Listen to this beauty of a statement from him, four days after the accident:

"We will start investigating if the two pilots caused the accident, and if they are proven guilty they could be charged with involuntary manslaughter," he said. "Preliminary investigations indicate that the pilots may have turned off the transponder," he said, adding: "They knew the risks they were running and nevertheless they took certain attitudes that endangered the lives of people."

Minister Pires, meanwhile, is rushing to get out his agency's own version of an informal "preliminary report," while the official investigations are not expected to be completed for many months.

He said the other day that his preliminary report will be issued this week. He said, "It is an important instrument not only to tell who are the culprits, but especially to teach us about what happened so that we can prevent new tragedies ..."

The Brazilian news account on this development assured readers that Brazilian congressmen have been taken for visits to air traffic control centers around the country and "were told in no uncertain terms by the military that there is no possibility this accident was caused by a failure from traffic controllers, radars or communication radios."

Hmmmmm, a mystery! I love mysteries! I wonder who will be named as the "culprits" in this preliminary report? A clue: "The Brazilian Air Force is convinced that Lepore and Paladino deliberately turned off the Legacy's transponder. The American pilots, however, have denied turning off the transponder or doing air acrobatics as they have also been accused of."

So is the fix in? And where is the international aviation community? Has it collectively "slipped the surly bonds of earth," to quote that wonderful poem that makes aviators dewey-eyed.

Shortly after this tragic event occurred, various aviation groups issued declarations about the growing tendency to criminalize air accidents and look for someone -- whether pilots or controllers or whomever -- to charge with a crime. Others called on Brazil to conduct a fair and timely investigation.

For example, in an Oct. 11 statement, the Allied Pilots Association, the union that represents 13,000 American Airlines pilots, said it was confident the Brazilian authorities "will conduct their investigation in a manner commesurate with Brazil's standing as a great nation" and said that everyone affected by the investigation would remain "in our thoughts and prayers." The statement ended, "APA officials will have no further comment for the duration of this accident investigation."

In an Oct. 5 statement, the Flight Safety Foundation said, "We call on the Brazilian government to stay strong in the face of immense pubic pressure and to continue to respect the integrity of the investigation and not rush to judge the various players in this incident." On Oct. 18, major aviation groups in the U.S., England and France issued a joint resolution decrying "the increasing tendency of law enforcement and judicial authorities to attempt to criminalize aviation accidents, to the detrement of aviation safety."

The statement added, "We are increasingly alarmed that the focus of governments in the wake of accidents is to conduct lengthy, expensive and highly disruptive criminal investigations in an attempt to exact punishment, instead of ensuring the free flow of information to understand what happened and why, and prevent recurrence of the tragedy."

Such fine words, men and women of aviation! Not to mention the "thoughts and prayers" of the American Airlines pilots union. (Jan Paladino, incidentally, is a furloughed former American Airlines pilot).

But listen, aviation community: Your two colleagues down there in Brazil are being held hostage for political and financial reasons, and it's time you moved away from the copy machines with your grand statements. It's time for you to stand up for them.

Right now, the international commmunity of pilots all know that what is going on in Brazil is a travesty. I suggest you forget the great statements and appoint some spokespeople to get on some old-fashioned soapboxes and mount a public drive, to put some pressure on Brazil, and perhaps Brazil's important tourist industry, to straighten up and fly right in this incident and to get the Legacy pilots home by Thanksgiving.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Throw the Old Spice down the well.
So my people can be free
(Sorry, Borat).

I hate to kvetch on this, but I am in a hotel room in Florida, preparing to leave tomorrow morning for home.

Upon arrival for a two-day stay I went to a Walgreens near the hotel to buy small containers of 1. toothpaste and 2. deodorant. The 1.3 ounce tube of Acquafresh toothpaste cost 99 cents, as did 2.5 ounces of Old Spice Classic deodorant stick ("Original Scent"). It was the only travel-size deodorant on sale.

At the deodorant aisle, they had a great special -- big containers of Arm & Hammer stick deodorant, two for $1.99. But I had to pass on that because, I realized, I was only allowed 3 ounces of such substances on an airplane. Plus I didn't have a baggie, meaning I was not actually allowed even the three ounces. And the regulation quart-size, zip-lock baggies -- one of which would have been required to display and carry any of the aforementioned products onto a plane -- cost way more than the savings I would have had thanks to Walgreens' two-for-one sale.

The result, as I pack for home, bereft of baggies: Into the trash go the 99-cent and barely used containers of Old Spice Classic (not such a tragedy there because the smell of Old Spice reminds me of 1968, which, trust me, younger people, was a year that really and truly sucked) and the barely squeezed Aquafresh toothpaste.

And what it the reason for this farce? In August, a bunch of hysterical British badges in London ran around shrieking that they had heard about a plot -- details remain very mysterious -- to use liquids, pastes and gels to blow things up. For a while, you couldn't even carry a book onto a plane leaving London. Then the New York Times lost its marbles one morning with a batty editorial suggesting that all carry-on materials be permenantly banned.

American security officials echoed the hysteria on cue. Later, the ban on liquids, gels and pastes was relaxed by saying you could carry on three ounces of any one, provided you displayed it in a quart-size zip-lock baggie. (For some utterly unknowable reason, a gallon-size zip-lock baggie is not acceptable). Next, I am assuming they will require that baggie to be tied to your wrist with a nametag on it, and a little American flag sticker in the corner to affirm that you Support the Troops or whatever those litle lapel flags sweaty politicians who never served a day in the military wear are supposed to affirm.

As I said in a recent post, would somebody please reassure me? This is the country that won the Battle of Midway, cured polio and invented the computer, right?


From Brazil's Zero Hora newspaper in Rio Grande do Sul

ZERO HORA – NOV 3, 2006 – Aviation

"We tackled problems on the fly"

[This is an interview with a 31-year old Air Force air traffic controller participating in the work-to-rule operation that has snarled air traffic in Brazil. The operation began when authorities started asking air traffic controllers about the Sept. 29 mid-air collision between a Brazilian Gol 737 airliner and a private Legacy 600 jet over the Amazon that killed 154 in the 737. Brazilian authorities have insisted that air traffic control played no part in the disaster. J.S.]


Annoyed because he was included among 149 controllers ordered by the Brazilian Air Force to bring flight control operations back to normal, this 31-year old ... was participating in the work-to-rule operation started by air traffic controllers in Brasilia, which for seven days has caused flight delays throughout the country. He is a member of the Air Force and considers the measure a type of incarceration. He agreed to be interviewed by Zero Hora on condition of anonymity, to avoid being punished by his corporation. He described to us, by phone from Brasilia, how the demonstration started. Following are the main parts of his interview:

Zero Hora – When did the operation start?

A.F. Member – It started after the Gol accident. We were questioned by the Brazilian Federal Police and the Prosecutor’s Office, but everybody knows there are problems with the radars and equipment in that region. We stopped and thought: "Look at the number of mistakes we make." We were tackling problems on the fly, and we don’t want to run this risk anymore.

ZH – Why the delays were only felt this week?

A.F. Member – Because of the number of flights over the extended holiday.

ZH – How was the operation planned?

A.F. Member – We decided to request that any orders from above which clashed with safety standards be issued in writing. When our superiors caught on, the punishments began. As military personnel, we are forbidden to belong to unions, but we organized the Brazilian Association of Air Traffic Control.

ZH – Why did you not expose the situation before?

A.F. Member – They put pressure on us. When we adhere to the standards, we are threatened with imprisonment, and are removed from specialized training courses. The plane crash, and the removal of our colleagues after the crash is what triggered this action.

ZH – Are controllers stressed?

A.F. Member – After the plane crash, 30 controllers have gone on medical leave in Brasilia. The situation is very stressful. We have colleagues who vomited, felt sick, etc. I have insomnia, and I can’t concentrate any more. Now imagine the 12 people who were removed! Three of them were directly involved, because they were working in the station at the moment of the collision. I heard two of them crying: "I killed those people".

ZH – Why the guilt feeling? Is it because the control could have warned the Gol aircraft about the risk?

A.F. Member - (Silence) I participated in the investigation of the crash, and this aspect may have contributed to the collision. However, this was not the main cause.

ZH – It has been informed that the Legacy was authorized by controllers to be at that height. Was this the first error?

A.F. Member – It may have been, but in this area an accident is not caused by a single error. The controllers may have made a mistake, but it was the lack of structure that brought on the accident.

ZH – But making life difficult for so many passengers, is that a solution?

A.F. Member – People who fly represent only 2% of the population, they are higher income people. I imagine they would prefer to spend hours on the ground instead of 50 minutes risking their lives in midair. I myself had to sleep for three hours on the floor while waiting for a flight to Porto Alegre, and then another hour and a half in São Paulo. I became a victim of our own poison.

ZH – Will the situation be normal by Sunday?

A.F. Member – We demanded that this activity be demilitarized, among other things. In exchange, we’ll work extra during breaks to cover the extended holiday.