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
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 [The report is expected to say that software] used by the Air Force to monitor flights is outdated and unsafe.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.