Saturday, December 23, 2006


My Christmas wish is that Brazil's news media start applying a portion of their skill at emotional prose to the unconscionable prospect that two American pilots are being scapegoated, and may well be criminally indicted on a charge, considered asinine by every pilot I know, that they failed to notice a malfunctioning transponder and therefore are criminally responsible for 154 deaths.

Pilots aren't expected to monitor the transponder, which emits no warning signal if it flips into standby mode, which happens. In this case, on the ground at air traffic control -- where a non-transmitting transponder SHOULD immediately be noticed -- 50 minutes went by before it WAS noticed. And then it was too late, because two airplanes that air-traffic control in two different centers explicitly ordered to fly at 37,000 feet, in what turned out to be a horrendous collision course, had collided over the Amazon with the loss of 154 lives.

Brazilian air traffic controllers, in a clear warning to authorities not to assign blame where it belongs -- to them and to the system they are stuck with running -- have deliberately tied up Brazil's air traffic system for over two months in a work protest. And the situation has now gone from terrible to intolerable as the Christmas holidays open way to the peak summer travel season and air travel in Brazil -- a huge country where airplanes are vital transportation -- virtually collapses.

From today's

"TAM, Brazil's largest airline, announced Friday night, December 22, that it had leased seven planes belonging to the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) to transport its own passengers this weekend. Delays of several hours mostly by TAM's planes have transformed the main Brazilian airports in Rio, São Paulo and Brasília into purgatory anterooms...."

From the Associated Press today:

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) - Flight cancellations and hours-long delays continued to haunt Christmas travelers at airports across Brazil on Saturday despite an emergency intervention by the nation's air force.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Friday called in the Brazilian air force to help transport airline passengers on an emergency basis, but it was not enough to ease the situation.

Overbooked flights and delays of up to 24 hours caused protests and anger among travelers stuck in airports. An upset woman was detained at Rio de Janeiro's international airport after tossing a computer toward airline employees, breaking one worker's arm.

In Sao Paulo, passengers were lining up for check-in along the sidewalks outside the metropolitan airport of Congonhas -- the country's busiest.

Air force planes began transporting stranded passengers late Friday, but due to the low passenger capacity of the eight jets -- two Boeing 707s, two Boeing 737s and four Embraer EMB-145s -- only 760 people were expected to be transported by the end of Saturday. ...

[MY NOTE: The AP story then quotes Milton Zuanazzi, the head of ANAC, the national civil aviation agency: "'These problems won't occur again. They cannot occur on the eve of a holiday," Zuanazzi told the GloboNews TV.'"

It seems to me that the ever-hopeful Mr. Zuanazzi perfectly illustrates the delusional thinking that plagues the supervision of Brazil's air traffic system, which is run by the military. Despite all evidence to the contrary, a harrumphing tuba chorus of military and federal police brass hats admits no problems and blames instead the villainous Americans.

Remember, after the Sept. 29 mid-air collision, Brazilian authorities violently denounced claims (which were subsequently proven correct) that the country's air traffic control system is riddled with blind zones and faulty technology, and run by a demoralized, understaffed military work force, many of whom cannot even speak English, the lingua franca of aviation.

Ignoring obvious reality, this tuba chorus insisted that Brazil's air-control system, being the finest in the world, COULD NOT POSSIBLY have been responsible for the crash. Later, it became obvious to anyone with the common sense of a turnip that Brazil's dilapidated air traffic control system was, in fact, the cause of the crash. Yet the authorities still are hell-bent on scapegoating the two American pilots, whom they detained without legal cause for 70 days.

"This cannot occur on the eve of a holiday," Mr. Zuanazzi insists of the air travel chaos.

Earth to Brasilia: Oh, yes it can. And it is occurring on the eve of a holiday. Can Carnival be far behind?]


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