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.



Cassandra_Moderna said...

Dear Mr. Sharkey, Maybe you still don't get it. Having been down here for 10 years, I think I have an inkling. You are obviously a well-travelled person, so you surely can see the need to view this situation from a Brazilian point of view, not an American one. No one, but no one, ever admits guilt or fault here. There has never been a Brazilian George Washington-type fairy tale about the cutting down of a cherry tree. No ATC is going to stand up and "take it like a man" down here. They always knew they were going to get the blame, no matter what they did. What they are trying to do is to get some changes made. They want better equipment. They want better training. (ATCs are now receiving only 45 hours of training instead of the paultry 95 hours they used to get.) They want English lessons. They want to be civilians. They want to be heard before more accidents happen. In spite of all their protests (however dangerous and bizarre they may be) and the fact that most people are sympathetic to them, as per usual, the politicos in charge are only concerned with lining their own pockets and sweeping it all under the rug. This is how it has always been here. Those ATCs are extremely gutsy. They were always going to be blamed. No person in a position of power down here ever goes to jail for anything. Only the little guys. In spite of the fact that the ATCs are doing things that are dangerous and inconvenient, they need everyone's support before there are more accidents. There is a terrible gaping disconnect between what the politicians know they can do with impunity (embezzle millions in public funds and not go to jail) and what ordinary Brazilians are beyond hoping that they will do. Lula is clueless and seems intent upon protecting his aging long march comrade, Waldo. The military want to keep control of the budget (which disappears of course). Everyone needs to get behind the controllers. But, down here, who wants to stick their neck out only to have it sliced through? No sane person. It is a Catch 22 all the way round.

Eduardo Augusto said...

She's pretty right. Although your duty as a journalist is to denounce, two things are just as sure as the death itself: the Br. government WILL blame the US pilots and WILL blame the poor controller who was there at the crash moment. No matter what really happened. Things are just this way here. Waldir Pires has been friends with the president for a long time and has worked in, er.. strategic offices just like the one responsible for the government accounting, so, he's just not to be fired too.

CollisionAvoidance said...

Brazil is no different than the US.

Some research from a former center controller at Be sure to read the threat letter (presidential finding of sedition) for telling what he knows at

There is an easy read version at

If you want to know what the FAA says about equipment in airliners, read

Even more from the FAA about radar transponders at

Technical information on a solution that the FAA will not allow at

Here is some good stuff on the FAA replacement that they call ADS-B/NexGen (The Australians have already abandoned it)

Just as dangerous, no difference.

CollisionAvoidance said...

OK, maybe Nick Talotta's report didn't appear. Try this:

Nick's report (he is the technical radar expert that the FAA chose from their ranks) should be entitled 96% of Transponders Don't Work Right.

See, here is the deal, if you build aircraft radar transponders this way, then they don't work right:

Don't believe that the FAA is that incompetent? OK, some peer reviewed papers at international respected venues (everybody knows):

So what does all this mean? Well, the FAA has names for how well radar works. See if you can guess what these mean: Drop Out, Track Jump, Coast Mode, Phantoms, Ring Around, Los Angeles Basin Problem, ...

Here is another FAA name: Big Sky. See, if you direct two airplanes right at eachother with the intention that they will hit eachother, they will probably miss.

What does this really mean? Well, you could shut down entirely the complete Air Traffic Control system, and there will likely be little increase in the number of mid-air collisions. Really!

Joe might not like this, seems counter-intuitive, the way it is. Don't be hard on the pilots, they had no way to know what to do to avoid it, entirely out of their control. Don't be hard on the controller. Yes, he dropped the ball procedurally. But what he had to look at wasn't real. So, then, how is it his fault?

What it comes down to is we have a sensory system that doesn't work for the density of traffic we have (100 airplanes per state is way too much). ADS-B/NextGen will have a lesser capacity. TailLight would do the job, now and into the future, but the FAA says it has the deficiency potential of removing total dependancy on a large ground based bureaucracy.

Does this help at all?