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Tue, Jun 26, 2007

Shootout Closes Runway At Rio de Janeiro Airport

Troubles Continue To Plague Brazil's Air Travel Industry

A runway was temporarily closed and three people ended up dead Monday when a shootout erupted between police and suspected criminals at Rio de Janeiro's Tom Jobim International Airport.

Two airports in Sao Paulo also suspended their flights to Rio for 20 to 30 minutes, for fear of the clashes, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

The three suspects were said to have been from the nearby "favela, or slum neighborhood, of Dende. They clashed with agents of Rio's militarized police at the airport. The runway was closed for about 35 minutes.

Police and federal soldiers have increased operations at the favelas in an effort to improve the city's safety by deterring drug gangs and organized crime. This most recent incident happened just weeks before the Pan American Games scheduled for July 13-29.

This is just the most recent incident in a series of episodes plaguing the country's air travel industry since last September, when an Embraer Legacy 600 jet collided in midair with a Gol Airlines 737 that killed 154 people.

It was Brazil's worst air accident ever; the two pilots and the five passengers aboard the smaller jet were able to land safely in a Brazilian Air Force base airport, as ANN reported.

The two US pilots and four air traffic controllers were indicted by a Brazilian judge earlier this month in the case.

Last week the Brazilian government fired 14 air traffic controllers and had two of their leaders arrested for staging a work slowdown that lasted six days and snarled air traffic with delays and cancellations, according to Reuters.

According to several reports, work slowdowns started in late October 2006 when controllers launched a work-to-rule campaign, deliberately slowing operations, due to concerns about working conditions and new safety procedures implemented as a result of the mid-air collision. In addition, 10 traffic controllers who were on duty during the September crash have been suspended, making the workloads even heavier for remaining controllers.

Monday, Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva publicly declared his nation's air traffic control system to be safe, just hours after an incursion on a Sao Paulo runway.



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