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Thu, Dec 07, 2006

Brazilian Aviation In Crisis Following Sabotage Claims

Tuesday's 'Equipment Malfunction' Fishy To Some Experts

Brazilian air traffic control has steadily worsened since the September crash of a Gol airlines 737 according to Reuters. Controllers in the country say they are overworked and underpayed. In protest, they've organized work slowdowns nearly halting Brazilian air travel several times in the past couple of months.

This past Tuesday, the same day two US pilots were given their passports and allowed to return home, an equipment malfunction caused the shutdown of three major airports in the country.

Brazil's aviation authority chief Milton Zuanazzi told Reuters, "There has never been a day like this in Brazilian aviation."

The September crash -- the worst in Brazil's history -- killed 154 when a Gol Airlines 737 went down in the amazon jungle. All evidence in the so-far incomplete investigation points to a mid-air collision between the airliner and an Embraer Legacy 600 business jet operated by ExcelAire and bound for the US.

The US pilots flying the Legacy 600 landed safely with substantial damage to the jet.

Following initial press reports in Brazil's newspapers the two US pilots had been flying at the wrong altitude with their transponder turned off, a judge confiscated their passports. During the investigation, Brazilian court and government officials repeatedly threatened criminal action against the pair should it be found they were at fault in the accident.

In the ensuing months, political squabbling among the many Brazilian agencies involved the inquiry cast a shadow over the investigation. Claims by Brazilian police investigators that air traffic controllers were muzzled and radar evidence withheld that might serve to exhonerate the two US pilots prompted calls for their release.

This past Tuesday the court returned the pair's passports allowing them to leave the country. The supposed equipment failures causing massive delays and shutting down three airports coming the same day has raised eyebrows among Brazilian air traffic experts.

Although the government blamed the malfunctions on a technical glitch, a retired Brazilian Air Force Colonel and recognized Brazilian aviation expert says it was sabotage. Franco Ferreira believes controllers feel they are being held up as scapegoats for the Gol airlines crash.

Ferreira claims, "There is no doubt that this was intentional."

The chaos continued into Wednesday with dozens more flight cancellations and delays. Reuters reports passengers have taken to wearing red clown noses and blowing whistles as they wait in line at airports.

FMI: www.brasilemb.org

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