Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Trying to reason with some elements of the Brazilian media is a little like working the reception desk by the security gate at the lunatic asylum on visitors' day, with the Three Stooges and the remaining Star Trek performers doing a benefit appearance in the auditorium.

Plus the pay, zero, is lousy.

So I hereby quit. Or as the suits say, "I am moving on to pursue new exciting interests and spend more time with my family."

For many months, I have been reporting on this blog, in regard to the horrible tragedy of Sept. 29, while employing an honorable form of journalism known as advocacy journalism. It was right and necessary to do this, in this case, because I was a witness, because 154 people died through error and misfeasance, if not malfeasance -- and because I was the only one of the seven who survived who was legally free to talk without constraint. Giving witness was a journalistic obligation, but more importantly it was an ethical and a moral one.

But I am not cut out for the long haul in the lonely and godforsaken pursuit of advocacy journalism, though I vastly admire the honest and courageous advocacy journalists who work long and hard and, usually, on their own, rowing against the current with nothing more than the truth keeping them going.

There comes a time to say my points have now been made on this blog since early October -- accurately, if admittedly garrulously. It is time to rest my case.

Motivated only by an impulse to publish the truth against a barrage from Brazil of lies and distortions, I have done what I could -- and that has been considerable -- to set the record straight about what occurred on Sept. 29 and immediately afterward. So with this final post on the subject, I'm outta there, and back to writing about the kind of travel that doesn't end in disaster, misery, recrimination, prolonged heartache -- and threats from my wife to defenestrate my computer.

I no longer have a dog in this fight.

In fact, I do not even have a dog.

I do have two parrots, one a brilliant, extremely talkative African grey. The other is a splendid American-born blue-and-gold macaw, a species of parrot that is native to Brazil and the Amazon. The macaw's English is O.K., though limited, like many Brazilian air traffic controllers, to a few dozen words and phrases.

Being American-born, he probably has no Portuguese language skills. He is a magnificent creature, adored by my wife and me, and every time I get fed up with the craziness from Brazil, I commune with Petey and realize through some spiritual bond that beauty, intelligence, irony, kindness, dignity and great rollicking humor blossom in abundance, in him and in the Brazil and the Brazilian character I see in his visage.

Alas, for too long I have had to pay too too much attention to cuckoos shrieking in the trees.

Meanwhile, Brazilian media, please take your meds, fight it out amongst yourselves, and try not to break the furniture.

Also, try to put the truth, now that it's all out there, in honest context. You owe it to the dead and to the future safety of your fellow Brazilians and those who fly your skies. Stop kowtowing to the Authorities.

Now, to wrap things up, let us consider matter of the English language and aviation.

Though Brazilian e-mail correspondents accuse me of being a xenophobe and worse for stating this, English is the mandated language of air-traffic control the world over. Without an agreed-upon lingua franca, international air travel would be impossible. We could change the requirement to French, Serbo-Croatian, Mandarin Chinese or Maltese if we could all agree on a substitute and on learning it -- but right now the requirement in world aviation is you have to communicate in understandable English.

Just as Brazilian authorities finally were forced to concede that the Amazon air space is riddled with radar and radio blind zones and that the Legacy business jet was flying at the collision course of 37,000 feet on orders from air-traffic control and not doing stunt maneuvers, there now appears to be growing acceptance of the fact that many of Brazil's overworked, underpaid air-traffic controllers – nearly all of them military personnel – often cannot communicate in English beyond a few memorized words and phrases. In an emergency, I would argue, this can (and did) cause, uh, complications.

On Feb. 13, a post on this blog under the headline: "Caution: Brazil's Air Space Ahead," published a blistering warning to international pilots about flying Brazil's skies, issued by the International Air Line Pilots Association. The warning enumerated, among other things, perils associated with radar blind spots, poor communications, bad training, poor military supervision of ATC -- and the trouble Brazilian controllers have with English. There are all issues first addressed on this blog over the months, and in each case writing about them brought forth torrents of denunciation in the Brazilian media.

Gleaned from today's Brazzil.com:

"Brazil's worst air accident ever, on September 29, 2006, when an executive Legacy jet piloted by two Americans collided with a Boeing 737 over the Brazilian Amazon resulting in the death of 154 people, might have been prevented if only the Brazilian flight controllers who were monitoring the smaller plane had command of the English language.

This is the understanding of Ulisses Fontenele, the former president of the ABCTA (Associação Brasileira dos Controladores de Tráfego Aéreo - Brazilian Air Traffic Controllers Association). He has called attention to the fact that less than 10% of the about 2,500 flight controllers working in Brazil are able to speak English fluently. And according to Fontenele, those who speak the language do it because they learned English on their own initiative.

He believes that the US pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino and the personnel at Brasília's control tower had a hard time understanding each other. For Fontenele, there was a series of mistakes that culminated in the collision. He compared what happened to the domino effect (in which a single piece knocks down hundreds of others) and said that the tragedy might have been avoided if a single error in the sequence had not been made.

"If there was no trouble with the English when they took off there would be no accident. But there was an endless number of errors. If only one of them had been eliminated we wouldn't have any accident," he stated.

Fontenele says that nowadays Brazilian flight controllers have a six-month course where they learn some English language phraseology. The classes, which are part of what people learn to become a flight controller, teach typical terms of air control and some lingo and jargon.

"After that, depending on where the professional is going to work, he doesn't get any recycling or refreshing course. In six months there is very little you can learn. You learn the basic of the basic. This is a very big flaw in controllers' training."

The former controller believes that the little knowledge of English is not enough when a flight controller has to deal with an abnormal situation as the one with the Legacy. "If something out of the ordinary happens, the flight controller may not be able to communicate in English. After all, all he learned were typical and basic flight control phrases for when everything is normal in the air." ... Air Force will create transponder alarm and give English course

Air traffic controllers will take English classes and have an alert against signal disappearance

From Estado

SÃO PAULO - The Air Force will install a type of sound and visual alarm on the the radar screens in the Integrated Centers for Air Defense and Air Traffic Control (Cindactas) to alert flight controller in case of the disappearance of the transponder number that identifies a plane. The decision occurred because, in the evaluation of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB), the basic cause of the tragedy with the Gol Boeing was the fact the that Legacy jet's transponder was not functioning. Another measure adopted will be to enroll controllers in English classes.

The FAB believes that the operator on duty in Cindacta-1, the Brasilia control center, on the afternoon of September 29 - when the collision occurred which left 154 dead - could have avoided the tragedy, still more if he had been able to rely on the resource of the alarm. After the Legacy passed over Brasilia, the operator took 24 minutes to perceive that the plane's position on the radar was imprecise and to try to attempt the first communication with the pilots.

Another change in the software which is being taken care of is the indication, on the controller's screen, of the aircraft's effective altitude. Today it's done automatically, according to the flight plan. On the day of the accident, when the Legacy passed over Brasilia, the radar indicated the alteration of altitude from 37,000 to 36,000 feet, which confused the controller, considered inexperienced. Most of the controllers defend that the change should be made manually, by the operator, after checking with the pilot if he did indeed change levels.

The FAB command did not comment on the release of the aircraft's black box dialogs. "The Air Force considers that the leaking of information is prejudicial to the progress of the investigations", it informed, clarifying that all of the data of the investigation is "under seal". The official prediction is that the inquiry will be concluded in September. …

And from the Gazeta de Cuiabá:

Controllers will have English to avoid other tragedies

"Enroll the flight controller in an English course was one of the measures announced by the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) to avoid tragedies like that of the collision between Gol Flight 1907 and the Legacy, which killed 149 passengers last year. "


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