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.



Cassandra_Moderna said...

Once again, I am going to say that culturally, you are not getting it, but I would not expect you to get it since you have not lived here. These poor air traffic controllers they are putting up in zone IV have had so little training that they should not even be there. If they open their mouths, they will be arrested. There is nothing in this culture that says to them that they should stand up and take the blame (even if they did something wrong). This is an attitude that permeates all levels of society here. The ATCs who have protested really stuck out their necks, and what happened? No improvements whatsoever! All they got was arrested. And service medals were just handed out, one or two days ago, to the jerks in charge, did you know that?

PATRICIA M. said...

Cassandra is right. There are bigger fishes out there, and those are government officers. We have the worst federal government in Brazil for the last 15 years, and that's the result of it. Lucky Lula DOES NOT DO anything at all.