Folha Online - 23/01/2008
Flight back to normalcy
Let's think together:
1 - The air traffic control system is the same, the airlines are the same (or even less than they were), the airports are the same, the runways are the same. And there was not a significant climactic change (from endless rain to skies forever blue).
Why, then suddenly, no more than suddenly, did the aviation crisis that drove people crazy for a year evaporate?
2 - Congonhas Airport is the same, the patio is the same, the runways are the same, the buildings around it are the same, the airplanes are the same, the air traffic control system is the same.
They why, suddenly, no more than suddenly, Congonhas was deactivated for various operations (including stops and connections) and also suddenly, no more than suddenly, it was announced that everything will go back to how it was?
There is only one answer: there was no government during a year in civil aviation, and now we're back to having it.
The collision between the Legacy jet and the Gol Boeing, which killed 154 people on September 29, 2006, was terrible and traumatizing, but it was one episode by itself. It does not justify, and would not justify, that thereafter delays, cancellations and crises would multiply and transform everything into chaos, the aviation chaos.
When president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva disauthorized the Air Force Command and treated a military insubordination as a union question, he fuelled the crisis. The government should have been hard on the leaders, but meeting the just demands to improve the system but did the reverse: patted the insubordinate soldiers on the head and did not meet any demand.
The air traffic controllers' movement became strong and organized. They engaged in work-to-rule operations and provoked a domino effect: and since it was already a mess, the airlines decided to get the best of it, INFRAERO looked like a drunken cockroach and ANAC... well, ANAC was what we're tired of knowing, full of political hangers-on and with no technical filling. What happened, happened. A stampede. And the bill was paid by the consumers, the pilots, the stewardesses, a whole network of agents in the sector.
Months of crisis had gone by, out of control, when Lula finally saw that he had done everything wrong and returned the Air Force Command's authority, which went about putting the house in order. But a bit too late. While the FAB was trying to resolve the air traffic control system crisis, INFRAERO was out of control, and ANAC was painting the town red. To the point of taking a phoney regulation to the courts to remove restrictions on the Congonhas runway. And there came a new accident, with the TAM Airbus, killing almost 200 people.
The crisis only got worse. INFRAERO accused ANAC, which accused the FAB, which accused the airlines. The lack of government fuelled conflicts within the government itself. From there finally everything was changed, from top to bottom, with months and months of delay.
Whether we want to say so or not, the truth is that December of 2007 marked a return to normalcy. Does this mean that things operated marvellously? No, they didn't. But normalcy isn't marvellous in the world's great airports, especially at times of peak movement, like Christmas and New Year's. But the thing worked reasonably well under the circumstance, especially in comparison with what it was for months. We did not see headlines, photos, yells, tears, long articles about aviation chaos, did we? No, we didn't see them.
The return to normalcy in the midst of December/January and the promise of return to the accustomed operations at Congonhas only confirm that the system was not rotten, it was merely manipulated due to lack of command, lack of government. All that was needed was for the government to get back to acting for the system to get back to working.
Now, it's to seek for safety to also get back to being the number one priority and for no one to be contented with mere "normalcy". There's a need to progress towards better operational conditions for the nerve center, which is São Paulo, expand the coverage of the country and have a serious and professional relationship with the airlines -- which, after all, are public concessions. The new ANAC seems to be on this promising path. We will see.
Eliane Cantanhêde is a Folha columnist, since 1997, and comments on governments, domestic and foreign politics, defense, the social area and behaviour. She participated intensely in the coverage of the collision between the Gol Boeing and the Legacy jet, in September of 2006.