Sao Paulo: An international air traffic controllers’ group said on Monday 23 July, foreign experts should intervene to fix Brazil’s chaotic air travel system, which the government has struggled to remedy for almost a year.
The call for intervention, which would have to be approved by the government, came just days after nearly 200 people were killed in Brazil’s worst ever plane crash and a radar outage over the Amazon forced scores of flights to change course.
“Brazilian authorities are too busy trying to save face. They’re putting the traveling public at risk,” Marc Baumgartner, president of the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations, told Reuters.
“We think they need an independent view,” he added. “It has the advantage of being neutral and it has worked before in other countries facing aviation crises.”
The federation, which has more than 50,000 members in more than 130 countries, previously criticized the government for trying to find scapegoats for the crisis instead of devising ways to prevent air travel from falling deeper into chaos.
Brazilian aviation officials responded to the call for intervention with anger, calling it a crude attempt to trample on the nation’s sovereignty.
“They’re a bunch of idiots wanting to intervene in our affairs,” Jose Carlos Pereira, head of Brazil’s national airport authority, told reporters. “Brazil doesn’t need international help. They should care for their air space and we’ll take care of ours.”
Air travel in Brazil has been chaotic since September, when a Boeing 737 operated by Gol Linhas Aereas clipped wings in mid-air with a private jet and crashed in the Amazon jungle, killing all 154 people on board.
Air traffic controllers, fearing they were being blamed for the accident, have staged periodic work slowdowns to protest what they call bad radar and radio equipment and poor pay.
Flight delays and cancellations have become routine, with irate passengers occasionally storming airport tarmacs and ticket counters in protest.
Too Little, too late
Hoping to appease frustrated travelers, the government has repeatedly declared the crisis over, only to face new rounds of delays and cancellations. It has also been harshly criticized for appearing to not take the crisis seriously.
The crisis worsened last Tuesday (17 July) when an Airbus A320 flown by TAM Linhas Aereas skidded off a rain-slicked runway at Sao Paulo’s Congonhas airport on landing and rammed into a nearby cargo terminal and gas station.
All 187 people on the flight and several more on the ground were killed in the crash, the deadliest in Brazil’s history. The death toll reached 198 over the weekend after authorities raised the number of casualties on the ground to 11 from four.
Firefighters are still searching for remains at the crash site, which the city plans to turn into a memorial.
Brazil’s aviation woes spilled beyond its borders this weekend when a radar glitch in the Amazon forced more than a dozen international flights to be rerouted, causing delays at several airports in the US.
Brazil’s Air Force, which oversees commercial aviation, said on 23 July, the outage was caused by a short circuit.
The latest crash put added pressure on the government to invest more in airport infrastructure and new radar equipment. On Friday, officials promised to build a third airport in Sao Paulo, reduce air traffic at Congonhas and reroute flights to the city’s international airport Guarulhos.