Friday, October 26, 2007

The Morning News: A Flawed Aviation System? Oh-My-God!

Thirteen months ago, when I lurched home after the Brazilian aviation system failed in its attempt to kill me over the Amazon (though succeeded in killing 154 other poor souls), I made a comment on CNN that pilots and other experts considered Brazil's skies unsafe.

Notoriously poor conditions throughout air-traffic control, coupled with internationally known poor conditions in radio and radar coverage, especially over the vast Amazon, meant that pilots flew carefully over Brazil.

I mean, this was not in dispute among international pilots.

But when I uttered those few sentences in a radio interview, you'd have thought I said that Alberto Santos-Dumont snatched the Lindbergh baby.

Unless you read the comments from Brazil on this blog starting last October (when I had to temporarily shut down operations because the reaction was frankly scaring my family) you simply would not believe the vitriol that poured in, including numerous death threats. Plus, I was being routinely denounced by politicians in Brasilia -- including the estimable, since-fired Defense Minister Wonderful Waldir Pires -- as a hateful, cold-blooded American imperialist killer for merely pointing out the obvious.

And 13 months later, with the death toll now at 353 in two air disasters in Brazil, nothing has been done by the Brazilian authorities to address the systemic problems in Brazil's air space. That is perhaps because they have been so busy pointing fingers of blame.

Anyway, here's an interesting column from today's news in Brazil. Note the quote from one Brazilian air traffic controller saying that controllers had been warning for a long time about the air-traffic-co9ntrol communications "black hole" -- in the very region where the Sept. 29, 2006 mid-air collision occurred. Translation, as usual, by our intrepid correspondent Richard Pedicini in Sao Paulo:

Flipperama of Death
Claudia Safatle

Now 93 days in the role of minister of Defense, Nelson Jobim simply ignores the demands of air traffic controllers, who for more than a year, since soon after the Gol accident on September 29, 2006, have gone public to expose a crisis of which society did not have the slightest idea.

It was after the collision of the Gol Boeing with the Legacy jet, which resulted in the deaths of 154 passengers that, placed in the center of the accident's causes, the controllers exposed their dissatisfaction with working conditions and opened a season of chaos at the country's airports, culminating in the mutiny in March of this year.

Today, representatives of the controllers protocoled at the Ministry of Defense their third request for an audience with the minister. The first two got no response.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva doesn't want to know about the existence of this problem and also isn't considering receiving them.

There are close to 2,700 controllers entrusted with the control of civil aviation traffic, 80% of these being military (sergeants and sub-officials) and the other 20% being civil service system workers and workers under the ordinary labor laws. All of them work under the command of the Air Force and demand, as an initial step toward the solution of all the remaining differences, the demilitarization of air traffic control.

Currently, besides Brazil, the military controls civil aviation traffic only in Paraguay and Uganda. One is not dealing with mere stubborn dislike for the model, the controllers argue. For them, militarization is at the heart of the enormous management difficulties for structural reasons.

"Dealing with the military is slow. We had already been complaining for three years about the 'black hole' in the Serra do Cachimbo range (where the collision between the Gol Boeing and the American jet occurred) and nothing had been done. But civil aviation is dynamic, it needs rapid responses", one operator evaluated.

After the March mutiny, Lula gave the Air Force commandant, Juniti Saito, carte blanche to resolve the controllers' case.
The commandant began to act to solve the contentions based on the principles of hierarchy and disciple which guide military action. He imposed a Law of Silence, which created a climate of apparent normality, and has been punishing with arrest any misstep of those under his command, suspended all those who were union leaders to eliminate what is called in the area "negative leadership" and at the Integrated Center for Air Defense and Air Traffic Control 1 (Cindacta I), all the higher level employees were removed from management functions and substituted by military men who do not have, necessarily, the same knowledge and experience.
Saito tamed the movement, producing, as a counterpoint, a climate of enormous tension among the controllers, who continue to work to guarantee the safety of passengers basically under the same conditions that they denounced as improper last year.
"This year there were already five cases of AVC - cerebral vascular accidents - among controllers after the mutiny", recounts an experienced worker. Besides the reformulation of salaries and the creation of a single career path for the three cases (military, civil service, and ordinary labor laws), the controllers insist on demanding the demilitarization of the sector as a solution for the grave management problems that they've identified.
As an example, several controllers cite the adoption of a software program developed by the Atech company which the controllers condemn for more than five years as not being trustworthy. "The target, at times, disappears or the software provided the wrong position", an operator observed. At the Air Force Command, however, there's a refusal to discuss the question.
The Gol tragedy in 2006, followed by the disaster with the TAM Airbus A320 on July 17 and two Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry (CPIs), show an aviation crisis without precedents.
The country discovered that air traffic control has very grave flaws, that the routes were dangerously concentrated on a airport in the middle of the city of São Paulo, that the organs charged with managing the sector did not function, among various other evils.
The government filed away the report produced by an interministerial working group created last year to propose solutions. Suggestions there included the creation of a civilian body linked to the Ministry of Defense, to deal with civil aviation; the maintenance of a shared system of monitoring air space; reformulation of the controllers' career path and salaries; new hires; and an independent audit to evaluate the conditions and needs of the system not only in personnel but also in infrastructure and technological updating.
For the air traffic controllers' movement, besides an audience with Jobim, it's worth opening negotiations with the Secretariat of Human Resources of the Ministry of Planning to correct salary distortions - a civilian controller who leaves São José dos Campos in December to work for the Cindactas will begin with a monthly salary only R$ 100,00 less than that of controllers with 30 years of experience.
And they will continue with the work of persuasion behind the scenes, with the staff of the ministry of Defense. On the government's side, the worst that Jobim could do is to believe piously in the declaration he made the day before yesterday, in Rio, when he said that of the three pillars of the sector, punctuality, regularity, and safety, only the last is already settled. On this theme, there is no room for plays of words nor for volunteerism. Really, there's no room for any kind of game.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Hi there...I have only recently heard of this story via the Bring Sean Home ( website. This site is dedicated to the return of a boy kidnapped to Brazil by his biological mother who has since passed away and the boy is now being held by the step-father in spite of the biological father having fought from day one to get his son back. The stepfather has now brought up the Brazilian air crash as a way to create animosity between Brazil and America. Just thought you'd like to know how this story is being "used".

Kindest regards,

Wendy Iriving, David Goldman Supporter, Canadian and Global Citizen.