Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Pressure on U.S. Pilots in Brazil

It's largely forgotten in the U.S., but the two American pilots who safely brought the Legacy 600 business jet down in the Amazon three years ago after a horrific mid-air collision at 37,000 feet with a Brazilian airliner remain on criminal trial, in absentia, in Brazil. The charges carry prison sentences in the crash, which killed 154 on the Brazilian airliner while all seven on the American business jet survived.

The ad hoc organization directed by trial lawyers for relatives of victims of the accident is now demanding, after a meeting in the Brazilian capital, that the U.S. government revoke the pilots licenses of the two Americans, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, who were employed by the Long Island business-jet operator Excelaire at the time of the accident on Sept. 29, 2006.

Lepore remains a pilot for Excelaire. Paladino left Excelaire more than a year ago for a job with American Airlines.

According to a report in EPTV Globo (translation by Richard Pedicini in Sao Paulo), "The association wants to ask the American government for the pulling of the two Legacy pilots' flight permits. For this, they count on the support of the congressmen on the House Committee for Travel and Transportation. The request will also be sent to the American agency that controls aviation. [My note: The F.A.A.]

"In the meeting, the committee delivered the document of support for the association with the signatures of 232 congressmen and 41 senators. It will be delivered in the U.S.A. ... this year. No criminal trial involving the Gol accident has yet finished."

There's obviously no chance that the F.A.A. would acquiesce to a demand like this in a foreign accident investigation that has been so fraught with controversy and charges of a cover-up. Rather, the demand appears to be part of a tactic to re-ignite public emotion and xenophobia over the case, as the pilots' trial proceeds in a regional Amazon court.

Last year, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the probable cause of the crash was operational and systemic errors by Brazilian air traffic control, which had both aircraft flying at the same altitude in the same flight path in a head-on collision course over the central Amazon. The N.T.S.B. was a part of the investigation in Brazil because a U.S. plane was involved.

The Brazilian military, which operates air-traffic control in that country, concluded that while some air-traffic control errors were made, the American pilots were primarily to blame because of a failure of the Legacy's transponder, a piece of cockpit equipment that signals a plane's location and triggers an anti-collision alert that would have been the last possible chance to avert the disaster.

At the time of the crash, many international pilots said that Amazon air space was well-known for radar and radio dead zones, and that Brazilian air traffic control was known for poor communications, including a lack of adequate English-language skills by some controllers.


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