Sunday, November 05, 2006


Just what is their story down there in Brazil?

The Brazilian military brass keeps insisting the country's air-traffic control system, for which the military is reponsible, is the finest in the world and could not possibly have been responsible for the Sept. 29 mid-air collision over the Amazon that killed 154 people. The military, by the way, is also responsible for investigating aviation disasters.

Last week, Brazil's air traffic controllers staged a work slowdown. This came a day after 10 of their comrades who had been asked to testify about the collision that occurred on their watch called in sick -- under psychiatric treatment, they claimed, and unable to even think about answering questions till mid-November.

From Latinnews Daily: On Thursday, as the work slowtown got traction during the big five-day holiday-travel season of All Souls Day, "The situation in airports was so tense, due to the long delays (some of 16 hours) that the police were called to intervene in passenger mutinies in Sao Paulo and Salvador. ... To bring the situation back under control, the Brazilian air force ordered all air-traffic controllers to resume their duties under threat of detention."

The article goes on: "Air traffic controllers complain they are overloaded with work. They usually control 17 to 20 flights at a time, many more than the maximum of 12 according to international safety reguations. ... So far this year the government has disbursed only 54 percent of all the [$127.5 million] allocated in this year's budget for air safety. ..."

Now, like some of the journalism that comes out of Brazil, and nearly all of it on the subject of the Sept. 29 mid-air collision, this dispatch has certain incorrect elements. The number of deaths was 154, not the 157 claimed in this report. And the Legacy 600 corporate jet that survived the crash at 37,000 feet with a 737 did not land at a "farm," as this report says, but rather at an obscure Air Force base hidden in the jungle.

However, the gist of the story just adds more support to the growing awareness that Brazil's air traffic control is in crisis, and has been for some time. And it follows a report earlier this week, undisputed by the authorities, that the Legacy 600 was flying at 37,000 feet [and thus on a collision course with the Gol airlines 737 approaching at the same altitude from the opposite direction] under explicit instruction from air traffic control.

Also today the wonderfully nutty online magazine offers some more Amazonian logic that inadvertently supports the case the Brazil's air traffic control might be out of control:

"Are the flight controllers right?" it asks. "Sure. Weren't they accused of failure in the Gol's plane accident? Unjustly and foully they were charged." [My note: This is a fiction. In Brazil, all of the wild charges and villification have been directed at the two American pilots of the Legacy 600, who are still unable to leave Brazil]. sympathetically notes of the overworked pilots, many of whom have two jobs to make ends meet: "... because despite their work load, they, day in and day out still strive for putting some order in the skies."

An overworked, stressed-out air-traffic control force striving "for putting some order in the skies" is hardly indicative of what the Brazilian authorities insist is the world's finest air-traffic control system -- an assertion that, incidentally, draws bellylaughs from international pilots who have told me that the system is riddled with communications black holes, not to mention unruly chatter and noise. adds: "If someone should be blamed for this horror taking place in our airports this someone is the federal government, which ... keeps cutting the budget set aside to meet the air traffic growth. In the last three years 3 billion reais ($1.4 billion) ended up being reallocated -- they is, they were never appropriated."

All's I know is what I read in the papers, folks. Meanwhile, the two American pilots remain in detention in Rio, with no sign of release.

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