The Boys In Brazil

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The fate of two U.S. pilots "detained" by Brazilian authorities after their new Embraer Legacy 600 apparently collided in midair with a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 on Sept. 29 remains undecided. All 154 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing died after the suspected collision apparently crippled the airliner. Most recently, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA) separately urged Brazilian authorities to release the crew. If you're just joining us on this story, the two pilots, Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino, have been "guests" of the Brazilian government ever since they managed to land their damaged jet at a remote military base. Authorities held the two -- both a state and a federal judge ordered the pilots to relinquish their passports -- while an investigation was underway. For its part, IFALPA last week noted that, "thus far, only contradictory facts, rumor and unsupported allegations have been forthcoming from Brazilian government officials" regarding the accident. The association went on to demand that Brazilian authorities immediately return the pilots' passports and that they be allowed to return home.

Adding to the response, NBAA has undertaken a number of efforts in support of the pilots' release and, on Nov. 20, association President and CEO Ed Bolen sent a letter [PDF] to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva calling for the pilots' immediate return. Additionally, Bolen and other NBAA officials have approached the FAA, the NTSB and the U.S. Ambassador to ICAO -- as well as Congressional staff -- to increase their awareness of the situation and encourage involvement. Unfortunately, these efforts have not yet borne fruit and highlight what some observers decry as the increasing "criminalization" of aviation accidents, especially when they occur outside of North America and Europe. In response, the U.S. Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), the Netherlands-based Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), the Royal Aeronautical Society (U.K.) (RAeS) and the Academie Nationale de L’Air et de L’Espace (ANAE) in France on Oct. 18 issued a joint resolution decrying the increasing tendency of law enforcement and judicial authorities to attempt to criminalize aviation accidents, to the detriment of aviation safety. “We are increasingly alarmed that the focus of governments in the wake of accidents is to conduct lengthy, expensive and highly disruptive criminal investigations in an attempt to exact punishment, instead of ensuring the free flow of information to understand what happened and why, and prevent recurrence of the tragedy,” said Bill Voss, FSF President and CEO. Let's all be careful out there.