Embraer Denies Malfunction In Brazilian Midair; Pilots Indicted

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The aftermath of last September's midair collision between a Gol Airlines Boeing 737-800 and a brand-new Embraer Legacy 600 bizjet operated by U.S.-based ExcelAire has become more complicated in recent days. Last week, a Brazilian federal judge indicted the two Legacy pilots, Joseph Lepore, 42, and Jan Paul Paladino, 34, who prosecutors say accidentally turned off the plane's transponder. At the same time, additional indictments were made against four unnamed air traffic controllers, presumably for failing to monitor the Legacy. Meanwhile, the bizjet's manufacturer said this week that there was no indication its transponder had malfunctioned, a position echoed late last year by Honeywell, which made the equipment and denied it was subject to an Airworthiness Directive designed to prevent the unit from inadvertently going into standby mode. Embraer President Frederico Fleury Curado told a Brazilian congressional commission "there was no equipment failure" aboard the Legacy before the collision, which resulted in the deaths of all 154 aboard the 737. "We have to remove any affirmation that there was a problem with the transponder," he said, according to published reports.

The pilots' indictments raised speculation among several observers on whether the two Legacy pilots would return to Brazil to face the charges against them. After spending almost three months in detention, the pair was allowed to return to the U.S. in mid-December but only after they promised to return to face any formal charges. Now, as AVweb reported, the pair's attorney, Joel Weiss, has indicated the pilots may not return after all. If convicted of criminal charges in the collision, Lepore and Paladino could face up to 12 years imprisonment, according to various reports. A court date has been set for Aug 27, in Brazil.