Saturday, July 28, 2007

Verdict Is In; Investigation Continues. Notes From Last Week

More legal notes from Down the Rabbit Hole...

I'll be posting the text of the congressional report on the Sept. 29 disaster in a few days, mistranslations, distortions and all.

Meanwhile, while the two American pilots (and a couple of flight controllers thrown in for face-saving some time later) have already been criminally indicted in the courts and found resoundingly guilty in the media and in the government, it's interesting (if possibly irrelevant) to note that the investigation continues at a speedy pace in Brazil.

(Again, let me note that the National Transportation Safety Board in the United States knows exactly what happened, and is sitting on its hands pleading "procedure" while the Brazilian legal travesty continues. And the United States State Department remains, as it has been from day one, passive as the pilots are being scapegoated.)

I was sidetracked for much of last week with a family illness. Here are some notes from last week, via Richard Pedicini in our Sao Paulo bureau:,,AA1594366-5598,00.html


The Director of the Center for the Investigation and Prevention of Aeronautic Accidents (Cenipa), brigadier Jorge Kersul Filho, said that the Air Force estimates that it will finalize its investigation into the Gol Boeing accident in the period of 12 months after the date of the accident. The Gol crash occurred on September 29 of last year after colliding with a Legacy in upstate Pará.

According to him, the average time that the aeronautic investigation of this sort of accident requires, worldwide, is 18 months.

"We are trying to finish in 12 months, a length of time we consider extremely reasonable", he said. The brigadier affirmed that the information collected by the Air Force will serve only for the families [of the victims, who are suing the American pilots and their employer, ExcelAire, in an American court, because America is where the money is] to understand what happened that day.

"If the objective is to seek indemnities or guilty parties the place for that isn't Cenipa", he affirmed. He emphasized that aeronautic investigations "are completely different and independent"of criminal investigations.

[Note the delusional logic there: Only in Brazil can they justify completing a criminal investigation into the causes of an air crash while at the same time bragging that the allegedly "independent" aeronautical investigation is incomplete, though moving speedily along. If not on the aeronautical facts of the accident, what was the basis of the criminal investigation? Oh, silly me: There was desperation to quickly railroad the Americans and cover up the malfeasance of Brazil's government in operating its air-traffic system. In official Brazil, as has been said here before, nobody is responsible for anything].,,MUL76446-5598,00.html

Relatives of victims of Gol fear that authorities will "forget" accident

Angelita Rosicler De Marchi will demand more investigation into the crash of flight 1907 She want to avoid investigation of September 2006 accident being paralyzed.

Glauco Araújo of G1, in São PauloPara Angelita Rosicler De Marchi, president of the Association of Relatives of the Victims of Flight 1907, the crash of the Tam Airbus, which happened last week in São Paulo, may provoke the emptying of the investigation of the Gol Boeing accident, which fell in Mato Grosso, in September of 2006, and claimed 154 victims.

"The work is going to continue strongly for the moving forward of the investigation of the causes of the crash of the Gol Boeing. We are also following closely the investigation in to the case of the TAM. We fear that everything will be forgotten. We aren't going to let this happen", said Angelita, who took over the presidency of the association on July 14.

She affirmed that it is inevitable that there be a closeness of the association with relatives of the victims on the TAM accident. "They are the country's two largest aviation accidents, but we know, at the moment, that they happened in different manners. The Gol accident should have provoked in the country's authorities a better control of Brazilian air space, flight safely and the Brazilian aviation network to the point that a new accident would not happen."

Relatives of passengers of Flight 1907 live through drama the day after Gol Boeing accident[...] She affirmed that she does not have an idea of uniting the families in a single association. "We won't do this, this isn't our rolle. We only want them to follow paths less difficult than ours. The two accidents have completely different details."

The directors of the Association of Relatives of Victims of the Gol Accident should meet in the next few days to draft actions to make demands in the investigation of the Gol crash, which happened ten months ago on the 29th. "We still haven't defined what we will demand from the authorities. If they had not acted with carelessness, perhaps the TAM accident would not have occurred," said Angelita.

[This seems to be a blog for the newspaper's trainees.]


Airplane news desk

Igor Gielow, managing editor of the Folha's Brasilia bureau , commented to me last week that the current aviation chaos is creating a new team of journalists, those specialized in airplanes, runways, air traffic control, etc. I asked him to tell this better to the readers of Nova in Folha.

Here it is:

After the accidents [...]Discernment is needed not only to reproduce information in the newspaper, however good they may be. It's also necessary to interpret them, in the light of the suspicion of specific interests (in the case of the Gol, the arm-wrestling between the controllers and the Air Force, or also the official intention of blaming the Americans a priori, for example; in the current case, the Federal Government's terror of seeing the Congonhas runway, its responsibility, as being to blame for the accident) and also to put technical data in context.

[Italics mine]


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Better He Should Deliver Himself to a Safe Aviation System

Quote of the day, uttered by President Luiz Inacio Lula ("Lucky Lula") da Silva as he swore in the replacement to Wonderful Waldir Pires, fired yesterday as defense minister, whose duties included running Brazil's (still chaotic) commercial aviation system. (That's Lucky Lula, right, kitted out in his splendid sash like the Generalissimo of the School Safety Patrol).

"Every time the airplane door closes, I deliver myself to God," the president said.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Waldir We Hardly Knew Ye

Waldir Pires, the Brazilian defense minister who has been in charge of the country's aviation system, was fired today as air-traffic chaos worsened after the most recent disaster last week.

Pires, who is in his 80s, has been mocked in this space as "Wonderful Waldir" since last October, when he steadfastly refused to assign any blame to Brazilian air-traffic control or Brazilian aviation for the Sept. 29 mid-air collision between a commercial 737 and a business jet that killed 154 over the Amazon.

For far longer than any reasonable person should have done -- and especially a person in charge of an aviation system that was manifestly unsafe -- Pires pursued a policy of criminalizing and politicizing the Sept. 29 accident.

As he did that, he failed to address or even acknowledge the fact that the accident was caused by technical faults in Brazil's air traffic system and by air traffic controllers who assigned both planes to a collision course at 37,000 feet in an area over the Amazon where radio and radar dead zones are known to exist. Wonderful Waldir, of course, denied they exist.

Pires was fired by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula ("Lucky Lula") de Silva -- I call him "Lucky" because the Sept. 29 accident and the resulting orchestrated anti-American furor gave him a toe-hold in a presidential run-off election that he went on to win. Lucky Lula allowed this scandal to continue unchecked while his nation's aviation system became exposed as a disgrace around the world.

Firing a clueless old man won't fix the problem, and it's clear that Lucky Lula is stalling for time while Brazilians' fury over a collapsed air-traffic system mounts.

And two American pilots remain falsely criminally accused in an accident that never, ever should have been criminalized to begin with.

Wonderful Waldir did have his moment, incidentally. As a presidential aide, he publicly took a courageous stand in 1964 against the military coup that led to a 22-year military dictatorship in Brazil. That coup, supported by the U.S. government, was perhaps the seed of his anti-Americanism.

But that was 1964 and that was a very long time ago. Wonderful Waldir was malfeasant in railroading two American pilots. He was a fool in not summoning the simple courage to admit what went wrong and talk about how to fix it.

And as the man in charge when Brazil's aviation system collapsed, he did nothing to alleviate it. All he did was look for people to blame -- without looking in the mirror or at his patron in the presidential palace.

So give Wonderful Waldir his gold watch.

And tell him not to let the door hit him in the ass on his way out.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Brazil to International Controllers: Drop Dead!

Without comment ...

The International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Associations, representing air traffic controllers around the world, continued criticizing Brazil for its poor aviation safety record yesterday and suggested that "foreign experts should intervene" to ensure safe skies, according to Reuters.

"Brazilian authorities are too busy trying to save face. They're putting the traveling public at risk," Reuters quoted the group's president, Marc Baumgartner, as saying.

Jose Carlos Pereira, the head of Brazil's airport authority, called the international air controllers group "a bunch of idiots wanting to intervene in our affairs," Reuters reported. "Brazil doesn't need international help. They should care for their air space and we'll take care of ours," he said. quoted Pereira as adding: "It certainly was a tragedy, but it was our tragedy."


Do They Ever Take Responsibility for Anything?

Ten months after the fiasco that followed the Sept. 29 crash and less than a week after the latest air disaster in Sao Paulo, Brazilian authorities have siezed on what aviation experts call a red herring to shift blame away from themselves.

As usual.

In the political fallout after last Tuesday's crash of a TAM A320 killed about 200 at Sao Paulo's Congonhas Airport, the investigation of the crash is shifting from the well-known unsafe conditions at the airport to a thrust reverser on the A320 that had been disconnected four days before the crash.

According to an Associated Press report, landing with only one reverser operating is "not unusual." Upon hearing of the thrust reverser issue, Marco Aurelio Garcia, an aide to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, made a gleeful obscene gesture for TV cameras that was seen as signaling relief that blame could be shifted to the airline.

Hey, the Americans-Turned-Off-the-Transponder ploy worked after Sept. 29 (after other feints at blame-shifting -- the infamous Aerial Maneuvers ploy and the Failure to Follow Flight Plan ploy -- failed to gain wide political traction).

So why not a thrust-reverser red herring? Whatever flies with the public.

For sure, the public is having a hard enough time flying itself in Brazil.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

No Serenity in Brazil's Skies

There is no joy in this, and no sense of vindication. I hammer on the worsening aviation chaos in Brazil for two reasons only:

One, Brazilian authorities have criminally scapegoated two innocent American pilots while ludicrously insisting that Brazil's air-traffic control and aviation systems are safe and adequate.

Two, Americans traveling to Brazil, or planning to, really need current information that they're not getting from any of the usual suspects in the lah-dee-dah U.S. travel media.

Air travel in Brazil, which has been a mess since the Sept. 29 mid-air collision that killed 154 over the Amazon, has further deteriorated since last Tuesday's crash that killed 200 at the notoriously unsafe Congonhas Airport in the center of Sao Paulo.

With operations sharply curtailed at Congonhas (South America's busiest airport) and with continuing breakdowns of air-traffic control radar systems over the Amazon, air travel in Brazil is a nightmare. And it's getting worse, not better, as flights back up after long delays and cancellations.

On Saturday, over a quarter of the flights from Congonhas were cancelled, according to For the day, Conhongas logged an on-time departure rate of 19 percent. At Guarulhos International Airport, where most international flights operate, the on-time departure rate was 17 percent Saturday. Only 35 percent of arrivals came in on time.

The radar breakdown forced American Airlines to divert 13 Brazil-bound planes that had departed from New York, Miami and Dallas, the Associated Press reported. Delta cancelled at least two flights.

After the latest disaster, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Associations issued a sharp condemnation of the Brazilian government's failure to address the glaring safety problems that were underscored by the Sept. 29 crash, which occurred when air-traffic control ordered two aircraft to fly at 37,000 feet in what would become a collision couse, and failed to monitor the situation.

"The Brazilian government has focused much energy in chasing scapegoats instead of re-engineering the necessary safety oversight and risk assessment to prevent Brazilian civil aviation from falling into deeper chaos," said the organization's president, Marc Baumgartner, who added:

"By delegating safety oversight, safety management and safety provision to the [Air Force], the Brazilian government is endangering the lives of the traveling public in Brazil.

"Warnings on the conditions at the airport in Congonhas have repeatedly been ignored by the authorities.

"[Brazil's aviation system] is a danger to the traveling public, the Brazilian economy and the credibility of the Brazilian state as a great nation of this world. Continuing to ignore internationally agreed standards on air traffic management and airport design (layout) will only lead to further hardship and possibly more accidents."

How bad is it, really, in Brazil?

Last week, Brazilian authorities announced they had retrieved the flight recorder from the wreckage of the Tam Airlines A320 that crashed on Tuesday and sent it to a laboratory in the U.S. for analysis.

Oops, turns out it wasn't the flight recorder at all. It was just a piece of the fuselage.

And then came the report that flight controllers were breaking down in tears.


"While the Brazilian Air Force said there was no risk for the planes during the [radar] breakdown, a flight controller, who asked for anonymity, disagrees and told Globo TV that airplanes were left overflying the Amazon blindly.

"According to this controller, there was a risk of collision for two aircraft that were going to Belem, capital of Para state [My note: the damaged Legacy 600 managed to make an emergency landing in the jungle in southern Para state after the mid-air collision on Sept. 29]. Another controller revealed that some of his colleagues panicked and a few started crying due to the situation."

My note: I hate to be accused in Brazil of being insensitive once more, but the last time we heard of air traffic controllers crying was well after the authorities had blamed the American pilots for the Sept. 29 crash. When the authorities were finally forced to also consider the manifest problems at air traffic control, controllers called in sick en masse and refused to talk. Only then did we hear about crying. Unfortunately, none of the controllers who knew exactly what happened in that control center stood up for the falsely accused American pilots when it counted.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

That's the Ticket: Serenity Now, Dammit!

Lucky Lula with his sporty sash and patriotic lapel flag-pin

Jon Lovitz's Saturday Night Live character Tommy Flanagan (pronounced "Fla-NAY-gan") followed each chronic lie with the exclamation: "Yeah ... that's the ticket!"

Oct. 1, 2006, was election day in Brazil. Anti-Americanism, always simmering below the surface, had bubbled up in a rage.

Two days earlier, 154 people on a Brazilian airliner had died in the Amazon after a mid-air collision with an American private jet flown by two American pilots.

Through some extraordinarily fickle toss of fate, all seven on the private jet survived.

Within a day after the Sept. 29 disaster, politicians and the Brazilian military, along with their Amen Chorus in the media, were blaming the Americans as the election fast approached.

Emotion was heated.

Never mind that both airplanes had been put on a collision course at 37,000 feet by Brazilian air traffic control, or that it was already well-known that, through a combination of lassitude and corruption, Brazil's air trafic control system (run by the military, of course) was broken down, both in personnel and equipment.

Radar and radio dead zones over the Amazon? Controllers asleep at the switch? Hah! A slander by the Americans to avoid accepting the blame for the accident -- blame that, by election day, and even as bodies were still being carried out from the remote jungle, was already firmly assigned to the American pilots.

Lucky Lula -- Luis Inacio Lula da Silva -- managed to squeek into a run-off election, and later was re-elected President. Many observers thought that the deftly manipulated emotion surrounding the Sept. 29 accident (which still runs high) was the reason he slid back into office.

Now we have a new tragic disaster in the same broken-down aviation system, which has been in a state of chaos since Sept. 29. Two hundred more are dead in a plane crash, bringing the total death toll for two aviation disasters in the last 10 months to over 350.

Finally Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, three days silent after the new disaster, roused himself to speak to his nation.

The real problem, Lucky Lula told the people, is that Congonhas Airport, South America's busiest airport, located in the congested center of São Paulo city, where the Tuesday disaster occurred, is in the wrong place.

And so a new airport, said Lucky Lula, shall be built!

Cue the crowd roar! Hurrah for Lucky Lula, master builder!

Now, Lucky Lula -- perhaps under the rhetorical influence of his sometime-buddy George ("I Like Starting Wars But I Avoided Serving in One Myself") Bush -- had no details to offer on when this marvelous feat might be accomplished. It takes at least a decade, as a rule, to build a big airport, assuming a competent effort is undertaken. Nor did Lucky Lula suggest how much this new marvel of first-world aviation would cost (counting what inevitably will be stolen).

Maybe George Bush, himself tragically unable to employ cheap anti-American sentiment to boost himself in the polls, should get an emerald-and-gold sash just like that soignee number Lucky Lula sometimes sports. (By the way, it does take a degree of fashion-daring for a democratically elected president to accessorize himself with a gaudy gold sash, looking like some Generalissimo of the School Safety Patrol, in a country that was ruled by a strutting, ribbon-bedecked military dictatorship just 22 years ago).

Perhaps under the cognitive influence of his sometime-friend up north, Lucky Lula further proclaimed that, other than the tiny problem of Congonhas Airport being located in a place where landing aircraft practically brush people's apartment terraces, everything else is honky-dory! There are no systemic aviation problems! Do not believe what you read and hear in the 'reality-based world'!

"The safety level of our air system is compatible with all the international standards. We cannot lose sight of this," Lucky Lula said, despite all evidence in the universe to the contrary.

In his television address, Lucky Lula also called on Brazilians to remain "serene, so as not to commit injustices."

Meanwhile, we've also heard from the bumbling Defense Minister, Waldir Pires, whose department is in charge of air traffic control and who was among the first in the rush to scapegoat the American pilots after Sept. 29 (remember his crazy-old-coot accusation that they were performing acrobatics and other "aerial maneuvers" over the Amazon skies?)? Here is what Wonderful Waldir had to say after the most recent aviation disaster on his watch (you know, the one that did not have any Americans to blame:)

"It's a moment for caution, and until the results of the investigation are known, it's better to maintain sobriety and avoid quick judgments."

Yeah ... that's the ticket!



RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) - An unexplained two-hour outage at a radar facility in the Amazon forced at least four American Airlines flights from the U.S. heading to Brazil to return to Miami International airport early Saturday. ... An official with Brazil's national airport authority, Infraero, confirmed that radar under the command of the Cindacta-4 radar center headquartered in the Amazon city of Manaus went down ... "It's true, some flights were sent back to their point of origin at that time,'' [the official] said.

[My note, according to, American has seven flights into Guarhulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo today. Four were turned back, and the other three haven't been tracked yet. Delta Air Lines has four flights into Guarhulhos, two of which have already been cancelled.]


[Thanks, by the way, to several readers who sent me tips on how to fix the new Blogger glitch that wasn't allowing spaces between paragraphs. You hold down "Shift" and hit "Enter" twice at the end of each paragraph]

Friday, July 20, 2007

Rush to Judgment

Once again, we witness the spectacle of the authorities and the media in Brazil rushing to assign blame for the horrible crash at Sao Paulo while investigators have only begun to evaluate the evidence.

As I have said, lessons have simply not been learned from the mess and chaos that followed the Sept. 29 crash, when the authorities and their amen chorus in the media fell over one another politicizing and criminalizing an accident before the bodies and the wreckage had even been removed from the Amazon.

Every world aviation authority warns against assigning blame hastily. For one thing, it creates a climate of fear and causes people who might have something useful to say to hold their tongues. It impedes the real investigation by the experts. It acts as a force against reforms. In the case of the Sept. 29 disaster, nothing was subsequently done to address the manifest problems with Brazil's air traffic control system. All of the effort went into assigning criminal blame to individuals who were themselves victims of a broken system and a bureaucracy too complacent, or too corrupt, to take responsibility and fix was what clearly broken.

After Tuesday's disaster in Sao Paulo, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Associations was the first among the respected world aviation groups to note that the current reaction bears a troubling resemblance to that which occurred after Sept. 29, when efforts began to scapegoat the two American pilots (and ultimately led to also tossing in a few air-traffic controllers for good measure.)

Here is a statement from the Flight Safety Foundation:

"The Flight Safety Foundation strives to improve the quality of aviation safety press coverage around the world.

One thing we would never do is speculate as to the cause of a crash. Unfortunately, during the media frenzy of activity that followed the recent tragedy in Brazil, we were quoted in an AP article saying that the wet runway caused the crash.

This was a misquote. AP acknowledged the error immediately and has corrected thestory.

Here are the points the Flight Safety Foundation has been trying to makeabout this crash:

1. This looks like another runway excursion problem. Runway excursions are a serious safety threat that has received little attention, because until recently, they have not involved many fatalities.

2. In the Gol crash in September and the Sao Paulo crash this week, judges and politicians seem to be driving the safety system in Brazil. Politics and safety do not mix. Civil Aviation regulators must be allowed to act independently and without interference. The politicians need to step back and let the safety professionals do their job before more lives are lost.

Thank you for the opportunity to set the record straight among our respected colleagues.

Bill Voss

President and CEO

Flight Safety Foundation "


Thursday, July 19, 2007

An Editorial

Those in the United States still trying to figure out how it would be possible for authorities in Brazil to railroad two innocent American pilots, and shift blame from their own misfeasance and malfeasance in running an air-traffic system, might have a look at some of the 170-plus comments attached to yesterday's innocuous post.

(Some of the most obscene ones and the direct death threats have been deleted).

Brazil is, famously, a thin-skinned country where politics are inexorably tied to public emotion, and where political skill is usually a matter of being able to manipulate that emotion. The Brazilian media are, famously, an integral part of that process.

Imagine trying to have a rational discourse in that climate. Imagine, as the two American pilots must, standing falsely accused in that climate.

On the other hand, you might note among yesterday's heated comments a good number of sensible, reasonable statements from other Brazilians, even when they disagree. And keep in mind that crazies are usually the first to react.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which knows exactly what happened on Sept. 29, is remiss in sitting on its hands and letting this farce play out in Brazil, meekly invoking garden-party protocol as an excuse for its silence.

The State Department's reaction has been effete and ineffectual since Sept. 30, when it sent a consul to Cuiaba who failed from day one to intervene in, or to even make the mildest of protests against, the illegal detention of the American pilots for what would turn out to be 71 days.

And what about the professional organizations? After some initial harrumphing about the dangers of criminalizing accidents, the International Air Line Pilots Association has gone to ground, strangely silent on articulating what every pilot who flies the Brazilian skies knows: that Brazil's aviation system is unsafe.

We haven't heard from the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers since that organization roused itself many, many months ago to decry the unsafe conditions in Brazil's air traffic control system. [Later note: The air traffic controllers group has issued a statement that's available today. It's appended at the bottom of this post]

Nor have we heard from corporate and leisure travel agents in the United States and elsewhere who are blithely dispatching travelers into manifestly unsafe skies and an unsafe air-traffic system.

The death toll now exceeds 350 in two separate aviation accidents within 10 months, both eminently preventable, both caused by Brazil's inability and disinclination to develop an aviation system that ensures safe skies.

It is time now for the world aviation community to summon the courage to speak. Before somebody else gets hurt.

Here is the statement issued yesterday by the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Associations:

"Air Safety Compromised in Brazil

IFATCA offers its condolences to the families of this tragic accident involving TAM, which
happened in Congonhas Airport in Sao Paolo. We received the news of this accident with horror,
but not total disbelief.

Following the mid-air collision in September 2006, this is yet another disastrous civil aviation
accident in Brazil in a short period. In both cases numerous warning signs, multiple risks and
safety relevant reports were ignored.

IFATCA has condemned the stance of the Brazilian Government to let the military FAB introduce its so called Plan B. This plan was to jail leaders of the air traffic controllers’ association and replace highly skilled and trained ATCOs by military air defense personnel who are neither
trained, nor qualified to control civilian traffic.

'How many more people will be killed before the Brazilian governments stops the FAB's live
experiments on the traveling public's safety?' says the President of IFATCA, Marc

The Brazilian government has focused much energy in chasing scapegoats
instead of re-engineering the necessary safety oversight and risk assessment to prevent
Brazilian civil aviation from falling into deeper chaos.

By delegating safety oversight, safety management and safety provision to the FAB, the Brazilian government is endangering the lives of the traveling public in Brazil. Warnings on the conditions at the airport in Congonhas have repeatedly been ignored by the authorities.

IFATCA urges the government of Brazil to stop the current repressive organizations of Air
Traffic Control and civil aviation in Brazil. Air safety is currently compromised and is a danger to the traveling public, the Brazilian economy and the credibility of the Brazilian state as a great
nation of this world. Continuing to ignore internationally agreed standards on Air Traffic
Management and Airport design (layout) will only lead to further hardship and possibly more
accidents,' warns the President of IFATCA.

IFATCA is the worldwide organization representing more than fifty thousand air traffic
controllers in over 130 countries. Amongst its goals are the promotion of safety,
efficiency and regularity in international air navigation and the protection and
safeguarding of the interests of the air traffic control profession.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lessons Not Learned

Without comment:

From Folha Online today: The Governor of São Paulo, José Serra, has already ordered a criminal investigation of the accident, by the State Prosecutors' Office and the Civil Police, he says he expects the aviation sector authorities to investigate the case as well.

From a statement by the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations (IALPA) criticizing the criminalization of the Sept. 29 accident as "fundamentally flawed:"

"IFALPA believes that in any accident it is vital that an independent technical investigation carried out by experts in air accident investigation must be completed before any criminal or civil action is pursued. To pre-empt the results of a expert technical investigation with a judicial investigation which may not be technically competent is counter productive to improvement of air safety."

Also see this 2002 report for the National Transportation Safety Bar Association on the dangers of criminalizing an aviation accident unless clear criminal intent is evident from the start.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Plane Crash at Sao Paulo Airport

This just in, via AP:

SAO PAULO, Brazil - A plane carrying at least 150 people crashed after landing at Sao Paulo's Congonhas Airport Tuesday, Brazil's airport authority said.

The TAM airline's Airbus-320 skidded off the runway and crashed into buildings outside Congonhas airport, said Jose Leonardi Mota, a spokesman with airport authority Infraero.
Mota said the flight originated in the southern city of Porto Alegre.


Kongressional Kapers

The Brazilian congress's Sears-catalogue-sized report on the accident is under translation. This is a report, heavily dependent on the previous Federal Police report, prepared by people who have no aviation expertise, and no special kowledge of what happened over the Amazon last Sept. 29.

Furthermore, these reports are by people who are willfully defying international aviation protocols that say it is improper to criminalize an aviation accident before the official, professional investigations are concluded.

Remember, however, that the authorities in Brazil do have motive, means and opportunity to abet the ongoing scapegoating of the American pilots.

Here is one small example of just how invincibly dishonest, or stupid (or both) this process is.
The Brazilian congress's report repeats the Federal Police mistranslations of portions of the pilot-to-pilot conversations on the cockpit voice recorder of the Legacy 600.

At the time stamp 19:20:32.6, co-pilot Jan Paladino says to captain Joe Lepore: "Get my sunglasses in the back. Mind if I do that?"

Lepore replies: "No, go ahead."

However, the Federal Police translated "No, go ahead" as "Don't proceed."

Now the congressional report goes one better and drops the question altogether and quotes only the sentence "Don't proceed" as a stand-alone exclamation, saying that it "reveals insecurity" in the operation of the plane.

The report itself, from what I've read so far, is a convoluted mess of obtuse definitions and harrumphing jurisdictional hair-splittings.

But every so often the report tosses a curve ball. Such as this preposterous assertion (oops, down the rabbit hole we go again) that, while a defendant's disinclination to answer prosecutorial questions is not to be seen as an indication of guilt, it is in fact an indication of guilt.

"Even though the legal system keeps any accused under the shelter of the principle of ample defense, which includes the right to silence, without allowing this to be interpreted against his defense, it is evident that positive law cannot impede that, intuitively, before each concrete case, one cannot conclude the blame of those who, using this legal prerogative, refuse to testify, because, if there was nothing against their conduct, they would not have motives to avoid speaking about the facts they witnessed, as happens with the Legacy pilots.

Therefore, it is evident that the deliberate silence of the North American pilots of the Legacy, can induce the conclusion of the existence of responsibility on their part in the tragic accident."

Say what?

(Translations via Richard Pedicinin in Sao Paulo)


Monday, July 16, 2007

Let's Play Whac-a-Mole

It's a slow news day in Brazil, as the authorities gear up for another week of bashing the Americans who failed to "ensure the safety of Brazilian skies." (Yes, that's a direct quote from the charges already filed against the two American pilots, though it seems to me that we all must be guilty, in that Brazilian skies are manifestly not safe).

I'm already hearing that the congressional geniuses have freely garbled key transcriptions from the Legacy cockpit voice recorder in the lengthy report they are expected to release this week.

So let's play Whac-a-Mole!

Have fun while we wait for the Brazilian congress to emit a gaseous cloud of unfounded accusations later this week.

Why Whac-a-Mole? As we've been saying, in this case in Brazil every time an accusation is firmly rebutted by clear evidence and pounded firmly into a hole, up it pops up from a new hole).


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Brazil's Unsafe Air Traffic Technology, False Alarms and Aerial Maneuvers

Jungle crash site of Gol 737 (above left). Legacy 600 after landing at Amazon air base (above right)

They keep insisting, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that Brazilian air space over the Amazon is well protected by air traffic control. After all, the Air Force spent $1.7 billion a few years ago on new technology to fix the problem of black radio holes and blind radar spots.

Now consider this excerpt from the current Veja, the weekly news magazine of Brazil. Translation by Richard Pedicini:

"The system that cost $1.7 billion is constantly breaking down, brings risks to aviation, and is not capable of watching the Amazon.

... The system does not operate in minimally acceptable conditions for commercial aviation nor for military ends.

Its radars suffer constant breakdowns. When this happens, the screens show airplanes that don't exist and incorrectly inform the direction and velocity of aircraft which are, in fact in air space.

One Air Force report obtained by VEJA reveals that, at the beginning of the decade, these breakdowns were tolerated, because "few aircraft flew in the region." Since then, aerial traffic has increased and the frequency of breakdowns, too.

One example of the risk through which the people who fly over the Amazon pass is the episode that occurred last March 27, at the headquarters of Cindacta 4, in Manaus.

For twenty seconds, the flight-control console [falsely] indicated that a TAM Airbus A330 had collided in midair with a Gol Boeing 737-800 between the cities of Sinop, in Mato Grosso, and Cachimbo, in Pará. [My note: this is the area over the Amazon where the Gol 737 and the Legacy 600 would collide for real on Sept. 29]

Before indicating the disaster, the system showed more than 100 sudden changes of velocity, direction and altitude, as if the jets were performing acrobatic maneuvers.

All the information was false, including that of the accident. But, when the alarm sounded, the flight controller who monitored the planes went into shock. "The danger is in a controller ignoring a real danger, due to the constant signaling of false alarms,"alerts the document of the Air Force Command. "


Friday, July 13, 2007

Whac-a-Mole Redux

I thought it was soccer, but the Boardwalk arcade game Whac-a-Mole has to be the national sport in Brazil. You whack, or rather pound, the critter into one hole, thinking at least that's been dispatched with. But then -- Whac-a-Mole! -- up it pops up again from another hole.

Aware that the existing indictment of the American pilots on charges of non-intentionally causing the Sept. 29 crash would allow the pilots to avoid extradition to and a trial in Brazil, some Brazilian authorities are now talking up the possibility of ratcheting up the charge to one that would meet the standards under the extradition treaty between the United States and Brazil.

Remember that the federal prosecutor has already made it clear in the existing indictment that there is no evidence that the American pilots (assuming they did anything wrong) acted either recklessly or intentionally. But now the Brazilian congress is making snorting noises.

In a draft report that has not yet been approved by vote, an investigative panel of the Brazilian house of representatives appears to be demanding a new indictment that would charge the pilots with malicious reckless endangerment.

Assuming insane people prevail (and we see all around us that they sometimes do), doing this would mean that Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino -- who are not required by treaty to come to Brazil to answer charges under the current indictment -- might possibly be required to come to Brazil for what would be a show trial on the more serious (and patently absurd) charges of "homicide caused by reckless endangerment."

Incidentally, where is the United States State Department on this? (Oh, never mind. I forgot. Don't bother them. There's a war on).

But where, oh where, is the National Transportation Safety Board, which has examined this accident in minute detail and has come to the same conclusion as other independent outside agencies: The disaster was caused by egregious neglegence on the ground, starting 50 minutes before the collision when it became abundantly clear at Brasilia air traffic control that the Legacy transponder was not replying. The N.T.S.B. has a policy of not getting involved in an accident before the country where is occurred completes its investigations, but surely by now is has to be clear that playing patty-cake with the Brazilian authorities is abetting a miscarriage of justice.

In Brazil it almost does not matter which "authorities" we're speaking of, since they're all essentially in wink-and-nod cahoots in a country where, notoriously, nobody in charge takes responsibility, and Outsiders are always at fault, even the facts clearly show otherwise. But at least the Federal Prosecutor, wrong though he might have been, showed some perspective.

The new heat is coming from the Brazilian congress, which has been conducting its own investigation into the crash. The draft house report recommends the new indictment of "homicide by reckless endangerment," which is an extradictable charge.

On the other hand, it doesn't appear as if the congress has the power to enforce any such action. "They have absolutely no authority to indict. The case is already indicted," said Joel Weiss, an attorney representing the two pilots in the United States.

The house draft report is widely seen by cooler heads in Brazil as reflecting a desperation to save face, since it's already been made clear that the two pilots have no intention of returning to Brazil under the current indictment, which permits them instead to give sworn testimony in the United States.

In this case, it seems to me that some elements of the Brazilian media, so reflexively genuflecting to the authorities that I fear they'll soon need collective knee-replacement surgery, are being manipulated by politicians to stir up resentment against the pilots' reasonable position that they won't voluntarily return to a country that detained them without charges for 71 days after the crash.

Here's the ploy, as I see it: How dare they insult the dignity of Brazil by refusing to return? Obviously, ways must be found to save face!

Via translation today from our Sao Paulo bureau chief Richard Pedicini, consider the tone of language in this excerpt from Jornal do Brasil:

" .. the [pilots'] fear of leaving the United States grows every day. The pilots are hedged in on all sides. Not only the Federal Police, but the legislators of the CIP [the congressional investigative panels] see the pair as having the principal blame for the tragedy."

Feigning shock, the report hammers on the fact that the pilots don't intend to come back to Brazil, suggesting that this is an insult that can't be tolerated, treaty or not.

"Paladino and Lepore are benefited by a treaty of mutual cooperation between Brazil an the United States. The agreement opens a loophole for the Americans to be interrogated in New York -- as they desire," it says.

Quoting from the draft report, the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo says that the panel found that the pilots "were conscious of the possibility of the crime happening and, even so, continued their conduct."

Jayzus, if I hadn't been on that airplane myself and spent 36 hours in custody with these guys after we fell out of the sky onto that jungle air strip (literally not knowing what had hit us), I might tend to wonder if the Brazilians know something I don't.

But they don't, trust me.

Never mind that it's now longer in dispute among international aviation investigators that the crash was caused by egregious air-traffic controller errors, coupled with an air-traffic control system that is saddled with antiquated equipment and that functions daily with the reality of radar and radio dead zones -- especially over the Amazon, where the collision took place.

Yes, there is a matter of a perhaps malfunctioning transponder on the Legacy 600 business jet. Was the Legacy transponder malfunctioning? No one has yet been able to say. There is evidence to suggest that the transponder unit in the Legacy might have had some prior technological problems before being installed in the plane that were not disclosed to ExcelAire, the Long Island charter company that had just taken delivery of the $24.7 million plane at Embraer headquarters in Sao Jose dos Campos, near Sao Paulo, on the day of the crash.

It is, of course, also possible that the transponder was accidently knocked into standby, perhaps by being inadvertently jostled by a pilot's foot. (At the bottom of this post, I'm pasting a recent safety alert on Legacy 600 jets by the F.A.A., warning operators of exactly that possibility in the design of that airplane.)

No one but a lunatic would suggest that the pilots deliberately turned off a transponder, however.

Whatever the case, a working transponder and its associated collision-avoidance alarm were at best the last possible chance to avoid impact when air-traffic control had already put two planes (and this is also no longer in dispute by anyone with the sense of a cabbage) on a direct collision course at 37,000 feet, each closing in on one another at about 500 miles an hour.

It is not the pilots' job to monitor a transponder, we also know. It is the duty of air traffic control. And we know (again, not in dispute) that for 50 minutes before the crash, air traffic control in Brasilia, which had charge of the Legacy, was aware that the transponder wasn't functioning and, incredibly, did nothing to alert the pilots to that fact.

From Mr. Pedicini in Sao Paulo, the translation of a recent report from the congressional news servce Real Time:

"Report asks for indictment of controllers and pilots

The report referee of the Aviation Crisis CPI, congressman Marco Maia (PT-RS), informed moments ago that he will ask in his report for the indictment of four air traffic controllers and the two pilots of the Legacy jet, Jean Paul Paladino and Joseph Lepore.

The CPI is investigating the causes of the accident with the Gol Boeing in September of last year, which killed 154 people. The request for indictment of the pilots will be for " homicídio doloso eventual " [roughly, homicide caused by reckless endangerment.]

He reaffirmed that the investigations demonstrated that the larger part of the responsibility for the accident belonged to the American pilots. Maia argues that there is no way to prove that the Legacy's transponder was turned off involuntarily during the flight [My note: There being no way to prove a negative], but affirms that, even under this hypothesis, it is the pilots' responsibility to constantly check the safety equipment, principally in cases of communications failures with air traffic control centers.

The referee further remembered that the pilots opted for a route against traffic. [My note: Blatantly untrue. The pilots were flying at 37,000 feet under direct air-traffic control orders, and this also is no longer in dispute by any honest person following these events].

In the case of the controllers, the report will ask for indictment for unintentional homicide, He still has not divulged the names of the controllers against whom the CPI will ask for indictments."


I know this situation isn't the least bit funny, but it might help, for comic relief at least, to have a look at the 1939 Three Stooges short, "Disorder in the Court."

Meanwhile, Brazil Magazine at, the energetic online daily news magazine, has an even more pointed take on what's going on:

"Brazil Congress Wants US Pilots Indicted for Murder in Air Accident

Written by José Wilson Miranda
Thursday, 12 July 2007

Brazil's Inquiry Parliamentary Commission (CPI) on the Brazilian Air Traffic has concluded its report on Brazil's worst accident ever ...

The Brazilian House of Representatives's commission in the 200-page report is recommending that Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino, the two American pilots, be indicted for murder.

They are considered the main culprits of the accident for having - as the report concluded - turned off the Legacy's transponder ... Lepore and Paladino are accused of acting with malice. Although they had no intention to kill anybody, the document says, they knew their action posed that risk. ...

[My note: Several flight controllers also are being thrown in for good measure, though the congressional panel recommended that the flight controllers be indicted for involuntary manslaughter. These indictments, and any made against the pilots, would presumably supercede already-issued Federal Police indictments of the pilots and the controllers for involuntary negligence (though the federal police did add a graver charge for a single controller, the one monitoring the Legacy as it flew over the Amazon].

Back to the story:

"[A member of the panel, Marco Maia] believes that by turning off the transponder the American pilots contributed decisively to the accident.

'The truth of the matter is that the transponder was turned off and this is an instrument of major importance for safety. Another consideration is that the aircraft commander is the one responsible for the flight. He needs to be attentive to all the situations,' said the representative.

'All the elements show that the transponder was off and that both pilots were in a wrong way course,' added Maia.

The American pilots responsibility, ponders the legislator, is even bigger when you consider that the pilots didn't know the Brazilian air space, had little knowledge on how to operate the Legacy's equipment and had a "very low situational awareness" in the hours leading to the accident."

[My note, not to argue with the esteemed gentleman, but every international aviation authority has affirmed that air traffic control orders determine flight altitude, and the Legacy was ordered to maintain 37,000 feet. Yes, it's clear the pilots weren't fully aware that Brazilian air space is dangerous and that Brazilian air traffic control, supervised by the military, is run by undertrained and overworked military personnel who have complained (before and after the crash), about poor equipment, bad working conditions and supervisors who are more interested in having the controllers do military marching drills than in operating a safe air traffic system. And no: the pilots, both with distinguished flying records, were fully trained and certified on the Legacy 600.] opens its news reports to comments, and here are some that are posted today on that story. Grammar, spelling and punctuation all [sic]:

From someone signed "Gringo Dingo" -- "Can this nation slide anything further down the idiot scale? For Christ sakes Brazil, grow up already will ya! ATCs knew for 50 minutes that the transponder was not functioning but neglected to get into contact with the Legacy; ATCs ASSIGNED the two crafts to collide; it was the ATCs that lied and later feigned illness so as NOT testify during the inquiry and finally if the ATCs were AMERICAN they’d already be hanging from coconut trees in Rio. As it happens, they’re Brazilian, they F**KED UP BIG TIME, however Americans were involved and so politically it’s much easier to scapegoat those dang IMPERIALISTS."

A reply from someone signed C.ostinha: "You said "ATCs knew for 50 minutes that the transponder was not functioning but neglected to get into contact with the Legacy" Distorted Lie.... ATC tried on many occasions to contact the Embraer Jet, to no avail. The american cowboys once again acting like freaking John Wayne..... Bastards! Those american pilots belong in jail for murder.... As to you "GRingo Dingo" a.sshole... The stealthing technology used to hide your brain from all attacks of reason is impressive. Is NASA designing advanced retards now?

From someone signed Madre Dios: "That the pilots turned off the transponder is patently false. The NTSB report, among others, determined that the transponder was malfunctioning and intermittent, turning itself off. The Congress reaches an indictment here, but not in any of the cases of fraud, graft, collusion with any of its own membership. Some thing is rotten in Denmark and it is the smell of Congressional red herrings rotting in the equatorial sun."

Gringo Dingo again (and no, I don't know who Gringo Dingo is and am not pulling his or her strings): "Costa-baby, you knuckle dragging glue sniffing ball juggler; it’s quite possible that NASA has invented some giszmo to do something quite extraordinary this week, unlike your sugar cane pickers that invent nothing but stories of first world imperialism, and your politicians that invent nothing but excuses, but heck, we´ve come to expect little else from you folks. You and your ilk are simply out of your league, and hence need the ole sacrificial “let´s hang-the-bogey-man” public witch hunts to feel better about your pathetic existences. Sure, let’s come right out and say-- contrary to all the facts--that the Americans should be “charged” during this CPI (a BURROcractic invent designed to soley to feign public interest in events while lining the pockets of the already wealthy). Why not? It will be translated on Globo into “Americans are the only guilty” which will be enough to rally the 189,000,000 cachaça suppositories that don’t read into a frenzy. But for the one million who actually do have functioning synapses and can read, they’ll pick up Veja and see they’ve been bamboozled (international ATC is calling Brazil's skies UNSAFE!): AGAIN. Although reading the Brazilian weeklies from Miami doesn’t really count, now does it? Face it Costinha, blaming the pilots for the problems of the ATC is just a political ploy to ease air traffic for Pan, and to take attention off the rest of the countries pathetic woes… which are, in no particular order: Violence, Corruption, Stupidity, Illiteracy, Poverty, Stupidity, Nepotism, Coronelism, Stupidity, Poor infrastructure, stupidity, being Brazilian and Stupidity."

Meanwhile, Folha de S. Paulo weighs in with this summary of the report, with some reaction from the attorney representing ExcelAire and the pilots in Brazil:


--Motive: The turning off of the transponder was the principal cause of the accident
The pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino practiced the crime of attack against safely, with the destruction of aircraft and the occurrence of deaths, with intent (the risk of their conduct was predictable, but they acted with indifference)

--Controllers: They were negligent in not having performed the procedures foreseen in cases of failure of radio and transponder

CPI's suggestions: Installation of audio alarms in aircraft cockpits and on controllers' consoles, indicating turning off of a transponder. Installation of voice recorders in cockpits with a capacity of more than two hours.

Other Side

CPI's accusation is irresponsible, lawyer says

By the Brasilia Bureau

Lawyer Theo Dias, who represents the Legacy jet's pilots, Americans Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, called "irresponsible" the CPI's accusation of them even before the conclusion of the technical investigations that are being undertaken by aeronautic authorities.

'It was irresponsible to make a supposed investigation conducted by politicians and then announce the judgment even before the conclusions of Cenipa [the FAB center for the investigation and prevention of aeronautic accidents]. It should be something completely new in the history of international aviation,' he reacted.

According to Dias, the CPI was created to analyze the aviation crisis and to propose changes in the system, not to investigate and issue judgments on the causes of aircraft collisions and crashes.

One example of what he called 'irresponsibility' is the fact that the legislators announced 'results' without knowing at least what happened with the transponder ...

He said that, too, he considers it 'an absurdity and a danger' the announcement that the CPI intends to have access to the tapes of the Legacy's black boxes, to analyze the pilots' dialogs.

'How can layman politicians interpret the black boxes of airplanes? This only shows how CPIs have become trivialized in this country,' the lawyer affirmed."

And so it goes ...

Here is that F.A.A. safety alert:

Safety Alert for Operators
U.S. Department SAFO 07005
of Transportation DATE 7/3/2007
Federal Aviation
Administration Flight Standards Service
Washington, DC

A SAFO contains important safety information and may include recommended action. SAFO content should be especially valuable to air carriers in meeting their statutory duty to provide service with the highest possible degree of safety in the public interest.

Subject: Embraer Legacy/EMB-135, -140, -145 — Be Careful Where You Put Your Foot

Purpose: This SAFO calls attention to the possibility that a pilot of an Embraer Legacy, EMB-135 or -145 (sometimes called EMB-140 in marketing literature) might inadvertently change VHF radio frequencies or place the ATC transponder into standby mode during flight.

Background: During an investigation the FAA discovered that crewmembers who had the simple habit of placing their shoe on the footrest just below the instrument panel could inadvertently put the ATC transponder into standby mode, or change radio frequencies without the crew's awareness. Further, they found that pilots might not notice the corresponding indication on the Pilot Flight Display due to the white colored letters, which are not as noticeable as differently colored caution or warning indications.

Switching a transponder with a functioning traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) to standby mode renders the TCAS ineffective, and is therefore one of the most serious consequences of a pilot’s foot inadvertently contacting the radio management unit. Two airplanes equipped with TCAS would fail to see each other if they were on a collision course. Pilots could presume TCAS was operating normally if they failed to notice the subtle TCAS OFF indication on the Pilot Flight Display.

Recommended Action: Managers of part 142 training centers where pilot training on the Embraer Legacy, EMB-135, and EMB-145 is conducted should ensure that their trainers caution pilots of this latent hazard and emphasize the importance of being careful when using the footrests provided.

Similarly, directors of safety, directors of operations, trainers, and check airmen for operators flying any of these Embraer models should immediately make this hazard known to their pilots and should make sure that it is addressed in their training programs, especially during flight training, supervised operating experience, and line checks.
Any questions regarding the content of this SAFO should be directed to the Air Transportation Division, AFS-200, at (202) 267-8116.
Approved by: AFS-200


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Boys of Brazil: Stop Fighting This Instant!

Wonderful Waldir Pires

(Carmen) Miranda Warning:

Boys of Brazil: Stop That Name-Calling This Instant!

Oh, they're turning on each other as the Investigations roll on in Brazil, where those behind the concerted efforts to scapegoat two innocent American pilots for the Sept. 29 air disaster are starting to look like thrashing pirannah. Too bad, because some of the testimony in the Senate inquiry has become riveting. Such as, a segreant in air traffic control saying that the secondary radar was known to be malfunctioning that day in the area of the crash, and controllers had been warned that aircraft transponders might be unreliable. More on that in a later post.

But really, this name-calling must stop! Yes, I know that way back in early October I began referring to Brazilian Defense Minister Waldir Pires as "Wonderful Waldir." Two weeks later, Wonderful Waldir denounced me as an "ignorant" and an "impudent youngster," the latter mild insult being especially delicious as I read it on the morning of my 60th birthday.

I am told the nickname "Wonderful" got under the skin of the octogenerian Defense Minister, and I myself kind of liked the way it was translated, non-alliteratively, in a few Portuguese-language newspapers: "Marveloso."

Wonderful Waldir, you will recall, is in charge of Brazilian air traffic control. His earliest and abiding impulse was to foolishly criminalize the accident, cover-up the manifest catastrophic chain of errors in air-traffic control that put two planes on a colllision course at 37,000 feet over the Amazon, and put all blame on the American pilots -- well before any investigation had time to get its boots on.

Wonderful Waldir, you might recall, ludicrously insisted the pilots were doing illegal "aerial maneuvers," like loop-d-loops, in the Amazon skies when the crash occurred, and never really backed down even after it was shown that Brazilian ATC radar has a habit of going heywire in the dead zones of Amazon air space that Pires and his cronies insisted did not exist.

The other day, a Brazilian senator who heads one of the congressional committees investigating the nine-months of air-traffic control chaos that have rattled air traffic in Brazil since the accident denounced Wonderful Waldir and called him a very bad word in Brazil:


One reason this is a graver insult in Portuguese than in English, evidently, is that the word, besides suggesting that the insultee is missing a few marbles, also could suggest the Banana republic era of South America and the odious military dictatorships that ruled in association with United States based banana-importing companies.

Obviously my blog postings on the Brazil crash and the aftermath over the last nine months have a strong point of view. Hey, I was there, and my six comrades on that lucky plane will tell you that I had this figured for a set-up within hours after we fell out of the sky onto that jungle air strip, literally unaware of what had hit us.

But I've tried to be very careful with the facts, even when I was the only one reporting them. (I'm still unable to figure out a way to import the Brazil posts before I broke out the Brazil news into this separate blog. To see the archives, please see

So let's set the record straight on one thing.

Wonderful Waldir was no friend of the right-wing military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 till 1985. When the military coup against populist (but not popular) President Joao Goulart occurred in 1964 (with support from the United States, as many Brazilians will never forget), young Pires was a Goulart cabinet minister. In the dotage of an old leftie in South America, a reflexive anti-Americanism must be viewed in a certain context).

As the respected Brazilian journalist Alberto Dines wrote back in December, Pires is "an honest, courageous poilitician with an undefiled biography."

However, as the head of Brazilian commercial and military aviation ... well, not so hot. On his watch, huge sums of money went to supposedly improve what had been a third-world air traffic control system, while Brazilian commercial air traffic soared. Whatever they spent the money on, it didn't buy them a first-class system. The crash merely exposed the huge technological and human problems with Brazil's military-run air-traffic system that international pilots have talked about for years.

After the crash last Sept. 29, Pires flew off the tracks and greatly contributed to the current mess. As Dines wrote: His "intention was to make the government look good, or at least the ruling party." Pires, Dines said, "politicized the tragedy from the very beginning ... The pilots of the Legacy were Americans, ergo they were preliminarily guilty."

Pires has a lot to answer for, and so do some of the government's flunkies in the news media, who have been flogging the anti-American donkey since day one, irrespective of the facts in this particular case.

More detail later on what's been happening in the congressional investigations, some testimony in which has not pleased the "hang the Americans" mob.

Of course, some Brazilian newspapers and their amusingly delusional columnists (who genuflect to the authorities for their "scoops" so reflexively that I worry they'll soon require knee-replacement surgery), are of course still doing their desperate level-best to denounce inconvenient facts and villify apostates whose testimony gets in way of the story as they have been instructed to report it. That false story is taking on water like the Titanic.


Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Swiss Connection II: International Controllers May Sanction Brazil

This is going to be an interesting week for air travel in Brazil.

Air traffic controllers in Brazil are outraged that Brazilian military authorities have charged four controllers (along with the two American pilots) in the mid-air collision, and then arrested others as controllers continued protesting poor working conditions and safety hazards in Brazil's air traffic control system. The military, which runs air traffic control, has accused controllers of sabotaging the system.

International air-traffic control representatives are said to be deeply concerned about deteriorating conditions in Brazil.

As our Sao Paulo bureau chief Richard Pedicini reports,
"on Saturday, 45 percent of flights in Brazil were delayed and 12.6 percent canceled. For Sunday so far, it's running 33% delayed."

As to the international air traffic controllers position, the following excerpts are from Correio Brasiliense as translated by Mr. Pedicini:

Warning now comes from overseas

In an official communication, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers says that the Air Force system of flight operation is unsafe. The measure may impede foreign planes from landing in the country

Mariana Mainenti and Renata Mariz
Correio reporters

Brazilian air space will be declared insecure by the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers [Associations], IFACTA. Christoph Gilgen, who is an air traffic controller and represents IFATCA in Switzerland, affirmed that a few details remain before the publication of an official note. "I expected that this declaration would be made today (yesterday), but there are some small changes", he said. The tendency is for international airlines to stop flying to Brazil and for the aviation crisis, under control after the emergency plan was adopted by the government eight days ago, to get worse. The Air Force affirmed that it will not comment on the IFATCA declaration before it is released.

Christoph Gilgen is harsh in his criticism of the Brazilian air traffic control system. He spent a week in Brazil, after the Gol accident, last September, to verify the operation of the Integrated Center for Air Traffic Control and Defense (Cindacta) in Brasilia ... [My note: That's the air-traffic control center that had control of both planes at the time of the collision.]

In an extensive report, he criticized the equipment and the military administration ... [The report is expected to say that software] used by the Air Force to monitor flights is outdated and unsafe. He criticized the system's imprecision on aircraft altitude, duplication of images on monitors and radar blind zones. This week, ... [the Air Force conceded] problems in its equipment. But, in a note, it again denied that there was any danger to passengers.

The consequences of a declaration such as IFATCA will make are unpredictable. But Christoph Gilgen believes that the impacts ... may be harsh. This is because airlines may tend to see the country with a certain doubt and, even more seriously, stop doing business in it. While it does not have a regulatory character, Cristoph explains, Ifatca is an entity respected worldwide, with close to 50,000 members in 130 countries. The same declaration has already been made in relation to Iran, Greece, and Tailand.

The newspaper goes on to state that Air Force officials believe the pending IFATCA statement declaring Brazil air space unsafe merely reflects "controllers looking after their own" and would be a ploy to protect Brazilian air traffic controllers "from responsibility for the accident with the Gol plane and, at the same time, give a second wind to the demands for demilitarization" of Brazil's air-traffic control work force.