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.]
By RODRIGO CAVALHEIRO
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.