Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Brazil: Luckily, the Pope Is a Good Sport

Sweet sufferin' --- ... well, you know. Do you remember back when this Brazil fiasco was new, and the outcry that ensued when I mentioned on CNN that Brazil's air space was well known for being riddled with blind zones and black radio holes that sometimes cause air traffic control to lose contact with aircraft? It was a full-fledged s--- storm down there. How dare anyone suggest that! (In fact, it is well known, and the authorities are now making noises about fixing it, once they figure out how to blame the American pilots).

Now, it seems, they even lost contact with the Pope's plane which (like the Legacy, as the pilots tried to find a landing spot after the collision), needed a third-party aircraft to relay messages to ATC. The Pope just completed a state visit to Brazil.

Read this from today's press in Brazil. Note how language difficulties were cited, as if the Pope's plane was at fault. Note how they try to pin the rap on the Pope, and not on Brazilian air traffic control. An investigation, needless to say, is underway.

Note: Cindacta is air traffic control.

Pope’s flight lost contact with Cindacta, says representative

From Brasília branch

The message of goodbye and thanks sent by Pope Bento 16 to president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, mid-flight to Rome, last Sunday, was only delivered to Palácio do Planalto yesterday afternoon, after being made public and causing confusion in the session of the Air Blackout CPI. (My note: that's one of two congressional committees investigating the Sept. 29 crash and the ensuing near-collapse of Brazil's air traffic system as controllers staged protests for months about working conditions and in an attempt to head off blame for the crash).

In the middle of the deposition of Federal Police marshal Renato Sayão, representative Efraim Filho (DEM-PB, former PFL), said that there was a communication failure of over 20 minutes between the flight that took the pope and the control center of Recife (Cindacta-3).

And showed a CD with a recording that supposedly would show that the pope’s message only arrived to the center with the help of a TAM flight.

According to the representative, the airplane that left Brazil towards Italy tried, unsuccessfully, to contact the center for 28 minutes. The calls allegedly happened between 11:17 pm and 11:47 pm of Sunday. The airplane was 350 km off the Brazilian coast.

The recording is almost inaudible and was made by an amateur radio user. After the confusion, the Air Force said that the TAM airplane didn’t “help”, but rather participated in the conversation. The message was then quickly relayed to the president at around 6 pm.

"As I fly above Brazilian lands to return to Rome, I wish to extend my deepest thanks for the dedicated attention I received”, says an excerpt from the pope’s message. In the recording, it is possible to hear the TAM pilot telling the controller that the Alitalia flight wanted to send Lula a message “of 23 minutes” from the pope.

The Brazilian Air Force denied the radio communication failure and said that the communications lasted a total of eight minutes. The pope’s message lasted two minutes. According to the Air Force, the Italian airplane pilot “led others to believe that the message would last 23 minutes”.

“The misunderstanding was due to the fact that the Italian pilot said that the message would last ‘two, three minutes’”, says the Air Force note.

“From the initial request until the full recording of the thank you – with a duration of two minutes – approximately eight minutes went by, without any communication failure”, says the note. TAM and Alitalia did not confirm the situation.

The CPI president, representative Marcelo Castro (PMDB-PI) said, at the end of the committee’s session, that the case would be investigated. (Sílvio Navarro, Leila Suwwan and


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