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.

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