"Now that we've arrested a few controllers, the air-travel mess in Brazil is totally fixed. Yeah ... that's the ticket."
-- Tommy Flanagan ("Flan-AY-gen"), the man who cannot tell the truth, as portrayed by Jon Lovitz on Saturday Night Live.
Well, those of you stuck in the chaos of Brazil's airports can rest easy. It's all fixed, Lucky Lula announces. As reported today by Reuters:
BRASILIA, June 25 (Reuters) - Six days of chaos at Brazil's airports have come to an end, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Monday, after the government sacked 14 air traffic controllers and ordered two of their leaders arrested.
"There are no more delays due to air control problems," Lula said on his weekly radio program.
A work slowdown by controllers, most of them air force officers, had caused renewed chaos in airports last week. Hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled, affecting business travel between the main hubs like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Latin America's largest country.
"In view of this fact of insubordination, I determine that the air force command put the house in order, do whatever needs to be done. But we have to keep the airports functioning well, maintain military discipline," Lula said.
Air travel chaos has persisted on and off for months, with some 100 controllers walking off the job on March 30, which forced a brief shutdown of all airports and triggered further air traffic problems in April as strike talks went on.
Controllers are demanding higher pay, modern equipment and a lighter work load.
The air force sacked 14 controllers on Friday and ordered the arrest of two union leaders. "An army" of new controllers would be trained to avoid problems in the future, Lula added.
He also said Brazil's air traffic control equipment was among the world's most modern, rejecting air controller claims it was outdated and risky. Lula said calling it outdated was tantamount to "terrorizing society".
Two passenger planes clipped wings late on Sunday while taxiing at Sao Paulo's domestic airport, adding concerns about the air travel safety. Nobody was injured and the incident was apparently unrelated to the labor protest.
Air travel has repeatedly been disrupted since Brazil's worst aviation accident last September unveiled a series of problems, including insufficient infrastructure and overburdened, underpaid staff. A Gol airlines Boeing 737 and a small executive jet collided on Sept. 29 in mid-air, killing 154 people.
My note: Wonderful Waldir Pires, the doddering defense minister who has loudly denounced all (like me) who have pointed out that Brazil's military-run air-traffic system is widely considered by international pilots to be unsafe and unreliable, remains in his job, part of which is to run air traffic control. He has a private plane, though.