Brazil ATC Takes A Beating; Full Midair CVR Transcript Released

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The sad saga of last Sept. 29's midair collision between a Gol Airlines Boeing 737-800 and a brand-new Embraer Legacy 600 operated by U.S.-based ExcelAire over the Amazon jungle continued to develop this week, with calls from U.S. and international observers for South American countries to clean up their ATC acts. At least one major South American newspaper took to task Brazil and Argentina's ATC systems, noting, "Increased air traffic at major airports in both countries has not resulted in corresponding upgrades of infrastructure or additional staffing, according to organizations representing thousands of pilots and air traffic controllers worldwide." That same source quoted Jorge Nunes Oliveira, president of the Association of Air Traffic Controllers of Rio de Janeiro, saying, "We are still working with some obsolete equipment, and we don't have the number of professionals we need. We have four control centers around Brazil that are responsible for the whole country. They should launch a deep study of that and consider sub-dividing those." Oliveira added, "I always used to say that, despite everything, Brazil's air traffic was safe. But I don't think that anymore." Also, a full version of the Embraer's cockpit voice recorder (CVR) transcript found its way to the media, adding more detail to the excerpts Brazil made public last year.

The transcript, prepared by the National Transportation Safety Board during its invited participation in the investigation, was entered into evidence as part of a U.S. federal lawsuit brought against the Embraer's pilots by families of those killed aboard the Gol 737. The full 112-page transcript was itself further excerpted by several news organizations, which noted that it depicted a relatively normal cockpit environment aboard the Embraer, with its crew experiencing difficulties contacting Brazilian ATC in the minutes leading up to the collision. Meanwhile, Air Security International (ASI) yesterday reported a Brazilian court ordered the preventive seizure of ExcelAire's Brazilian assets, which basically consist of the Embraer Legacy. The company said Brazilian media reports state that "the assets could eventually be used to compensate the families of the 154 people killed in the mishap should authorities determine that the two pilots of the executive jet were responsible." After months in what can only be described as house arrest, Embraer Legacy pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino were allowed to leave Brazil in December, but only after promising to return to face any criminal charge Brazil might bring. For its part, the Long Island (N.Y.) Newsday newspaper quoted several international and U.S.-based aviation industry observers who were very critical of Brazilian ATC after reading the CVR transcript. John M. Cox, president of Safety Operating Systems and a former ALPA official, summed up those comments when he told Newsday, "I think the Brazilian air traffic control system has a problem."