Friday, May 04, 2007


-- Illustration from Wikipedia entry on the Queen of Hearts in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

We're back on familiar ground down the rabbit hole in Brazil. In Brazil, the official reaction to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board report this week (here's another link to it), which cited the Sept. 29 crash as reason to better design transponders so pilots are warned when they malfunction, is: "This is evidence that seems to defend the American pilots! Off with their heads!"

The Queen of Hearts at least was indiscriminate in shrieking out verdicts and sentencings without evidence. The Chief of Police, even as mounds of incontrovertible evidence accumulate to show that the crash followed a series of major technical and operational failures in Brazil's air-traffic control system, remains adamantly focused only on the American pilots. Brazil's federal Chief of Police evidently still adheres to the inane notion -- first advanced by the Defense Minister, Wonderful Waldir Pires -- that for some reason, the American pilots deliberately turned off the transponder to avoid detection over the Amazon.

Besides simple anti-Americanism, the main reason for this nonsense, I believe, is political fear among authorities in Brazil of what the air-traffic controllers will do next, if real blame shifts their way. They've already thrown repeated tantrums and essentially shut down air travel in Brazil for days at a time since the Sept. 29 crash, as the investigations geared up.

Egads, the horror. If the controllers had any fault, the Chief of Police declares, it is of course a matter for the military (which operates Brazil's infamous air traffic control system and has an obvious interest in protecting turf and in covering ass), and not a matter for the police.

Even though both airplanes were civilian and the 154 people who died were civilians, as are the two American pilots.

And remember, on the very day in December when a federal judge finally ordered the pilots released after 71 days in detention in Brazil, the Keystone Kops, in a desperate attempt to keep the pilots in custody, hastily cobbled together a formal criminal accusation that the pilots had "failed to ensure" the safety of Brazil's skies.

The Federal Police are still seething that the court let the pilots out of Brazil.

Those who are following this story carefully might want to consult the ExcelAire report that I linked to earlier -- here's another link to it -- specifically the section regarding questions about the transponder equipment and its history. In that 22,000-word report, filed in Portuguese on April 9 with the Federal Police, ExcelAire says it didn't learn till after the crash that some key cockpit equipment was used, not new, and had in fact been repaired before being installed in the Legacy.

Neither Embraer, the plane's manufacturer, nor Honeywell, which made the transponder equipment, has commented on that. Honeywell did comment (last item, below) on the recent N.T.S.B. report, saying its transponders meet current standards in how they alert pilots to a malfunction. No one disputes that point.

It's been known since day one, by the way, that the transponder on the Legacy apparently was not transmitting a signal, removing the last potential barrier to a mid-air collision that was already long set in motion by failures on the ground that kept the two aircraft coming at each other at 37,000 feet.

The new N.T.S.B. report that has the Brazilian authorities so riled up merely says that cockpit voice-recording data show that the American pilots were not aware the transponder was malfunctioning till after the impact -- which has been known for some time. The report suggests to the F.A.A. that transponders ought to be designed to give pilots sufficient warning when they are not functioning.

And as I have reported here repeatedly, Brazilian air-traffic control was aware that the Legacy's transponder wasn't signaling at all for about 55 minutes before the crash -- and inexplicably did nothing about it.

Meanwhile, the Chief of Police talks about "forensic" evidence as if he's running C.S.I. Amazon.

Hang on one minute, Sherlock! After the emergency landing at the Cachimbo air base following the crash, the damaged Legacy sat there in the open, where it remains today, though stripped of avionics parts.

We seven Americans were held at the base for 24 hours (before another all-night session at a Federal Police regional headquarters a few hundred miles south in Cuiaba -- and, for the pilots, two additional months of being detained in Brazil.)

During my time detained at that godforsaken Amazon airfield, I was amazed to watch how many dozens of people -- Air Force, Federal Police, unidentified outsiders -- were allowed to crawl all over the plane and its cockpit, doing tests, pulling out parts and whatever. If that airplane was in fact a crime scene, as the Brazilian police logic argued from day one, it was the worst-secured crime scene I've ever witnessed. The morning after the crash, I even was able to go back inside the plane by myself to fetch my laptop. The cockpit was unsecured.

Anyway, here's some reaction in the Brazil media. Translation via our indomitable Sao Paulo bureau chief, Richard Pedicini:

O Globo
Police chief: "This is material for the pilots' defense"

Police forensic reports deny technical failure; only the two Americans will be accused

by Anselmo Carvalho Pinto (Special to O Globo)

CUIABÁ – Federal Police chief Renato Sayão said yesterday that the information collected in the inquiry into the accident between the Gol Boeing and the Legacy leave no doubt that the business jet's anticollision equipment emitted a warning signal when disconnected. The chief criticized the evaluation of the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), according to which the anticollision equipment was not fully functional.

"Besides, this is information for the pilots' defense. This type of release is only in their interest", he said, referring to Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino, already accused in the Federal Police inquiry.

The chief, who is conducting the investigation to find the causes of the accident, in which 154 people died, said that the forensic reports about the TCAS [anti-collision alert] and the transponder did not detect any problem in their operation.

Sayão expects to finish the inquiry report in the second half of this month, after more than seven months of investigation and four requests for extensions to the inquiry.

"I have the report 90% concluded", he affirmed.

The inquiry will not incriminate any other person besides the American pilots, accused of exposing an embarkation or aircraft to risk, without intent. The chief has already decided to send the inquiry to the Military Prosecutors' Office, recommending a military audit with the purpose of investigating the suspicion that crimes were committed by the flight controllers at work in Brasilia on the day of the accident. Sayão understood that any failure found in the air traffic control tower should be the target of a military and not a civilian investigation. Embraer informed that it will not comment about the case.

O Globo
"It's not new"

Pilots' lawyers maintains defense
Marília Martins
NEW YORK – The information that there were failures in the Legacy's anticollision system does not change the line of legal defense of the American pilots Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, says their lawyer, Theo Dias. According to him, since the inquiry began, the possibility of equipment failure has been raised.

"This conclusion brings nothing new to the inquiry. We recently presented a report to the Brazilian Federal Police showing that here was a strong possibility of equipment failure. In all the hypotheses of equipment failure, the responsibility for accidents falls on the air traffic control system", Dias said. "If the Brazilian controllers had acted in accordance with international flight safely rules, the accident would not have happened."

Folha de São Paulo
Civil Aviation compares controller to Bin Laden
Milton Zuanazzi, president of the agency, affirmed that the March paralyzation was beneficial to know the "enemy"
According to the Brazilian Federation of Associations of Air Traffic Controllers, Zuanazzi's declaration does not affect the sector's image


The president of Anac (National Civil Aviation Agency), Milton Zuanazzi, compared the Brazilian air traffic controller to the terrorist Osama Bin Laden in listing the country's air transport problems.

He made the comparison because he does not agree with the utilization of the term "aerial blackout" in reference to the Brazilian air transport crisis, while speaking at at civil aviation event in São Paulo.

"I don't thing that direction is lacking, what's lacking is investments - they're not enough. What we had was a movement making demands. The March 30 episode may be a good thing for having happened, in the sense that Bin Laden appeared. The USA is in a fight against an enemy whose that they don't know where he is. Bin Laden appeared."

On the 30th, the controllers stopped work for five hours and 20 minutes, paralyzing Brazilian air space and provoking chaos in all the airports.

After the event, Zuanazzi told journalists that his intention was not to call the controllers terrorists, but rather to cite the country's problems that need solutions. "When you are in a fight, it's important to know who the adversary is, his instruments and how he acts. Not terror, rather quite the contrary. I have deep respect for their movement."

Brigadier Ramón Borges Cardoso, chief of Decea (Department of Air Space Control), also present at the event, defended the controllers and said that it is not possible to point to a single item as responsible for the air crisis. "There isn's a Bin Laden. There's Al Qaeda, there are several factors. You can't blame the controllers for something done by a portion of them."

The president of Anac and the brigadier agreed, however, that the sector's infrastructure in São Paulo is precarious. Zuanazzi mentioned the lack of investment in new runways. Cardoso for his part mention the importance of planning to meet an estimated 17% yearly growth.

Other side
e president of the Brazilian Federation of Associations of Air Traffic Controllers , Carlos Trifilio, 38, said that Zuanazzi was "very unhappy" in the comparison with Bin Laden. According to him, Zuanazzi has power in the government to resolve the real problems of the crisis. "What needs to be done is discover the true enemy, the system itself". Trifilio also said that Zuanazzi's declarations will not have much effect because it doesn't express himself well and doesn't manage to influence public opinion.

Folha de São Paulo

Federal Police disconsider report for investigation
Juliano Machado

Police chief Renato Sayão, who is presiding over the Federal Police inquiry into the accident, refused to comment on the report by the American agency. "This has nothing to do with the investigation. If someone presents me with something concrete in this document, then I can analyze it." According to Sayão, 95% of the inquiry is finished. "By the end of the month our work will be completed." He emphasized that it is unlikely that he will change his line of investigation that the Legacy pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino, were negligent in conducting the jet. The pair's lawyer, Theo Dias, affirmed that the agency's report "reinforced the thesis that the responsibility to act in the event of a failure of the transponder or of the anticollision system is the air traffic controllers'."

For the director of Flight Safety of the National Syndicate of Aeronauts, Carlos Camacho, the report shows that the Legacy pilots were "much more victims than causers of the equipment failures".

Manufacturer says controller meets standards
Denyse Godoy
In New York
The American firm Honeywell – manufacturer of the anticollision system installed the ExcelAire Legacy jet that collided with the Gol Boeing in September of 2006 – said yesterday that "the philosophy of warning and announcement employed in the the equipment is consistent with the standards and requirements of the industry and of government authorities."

The declaration was a response to the report released yesterday by the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board), responsible for air safety in the USA. In the document, the entity affirms that the plane's anticollision system has the grave failure of not correctly warning the pilot when, for whatever reason, it stops functioning. In this case, only a visual message is emitted in the cabin, but the ideal, according tot he report, is that the letters be more attention-getting and that some action be required of the pilot.

"The NTSB is only making recommendations for future improvements. It cannot change existing standards", said Honeywell's press secretary. The company said that all of its devices in the Legacy, "including the communications unit, the transponders and the radio", are certified by American, European, and Brazilian aviation agencies.

The NTSB will recommend to the FAA (an American agency) that it inform aviation professionals about the defect, taking into consideration the Brazilian tragedy, which the transponder could have avoided. Honeywell said that the device was functioning correctly on the day of the accident, in which 154 people died.

Embraer, manufacturer of the Legacy, did not wish to manifest itself.


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