Brazil airports' radar outage cancels 51 flights
3 Aug, 2008, 0423 hrs IST
SAO PAULO: A power outage shut down radar systems at four airports serving South America's largest city Saturday, causing the cancellation of 51 flights and delaying more than 200 others. Power was restored and airports were operating normally by late afternoon. In an unrelated incident Saturday, lightning struck a passenger plane as it readied for takeoff from Brazil's southern city of Curitiba, an authority said. There were no injuries. The cause of the 90-minute radar outage appeared to be a breakdown in the generators that supply energy to Sao Paulo's airports, said a representative of the Sao Paulo office of Brazil's airport authority, Infraero. The airports were operating normally again by late afternoon and the Brazilian Air Force, which runs the radar systems, was investigating, said the spokesman, who said he could not be quoted by name under authority regulations. No one answered repeated telephone calls to the Air Force. A total of 51 flights were canceled while 245 flights were delayed for more than 30 minutes, the spokesman said. Several flights had to be diverted to Rio de Janeiro. Hardest hit was Sao Paulo's main international airport, located in the suburb of Guarulhos. The airport suspended landings and takeoffs for two hours. Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport, one of the country's busiest, shut down for 90 minutes. Passengers at the Curitiba airport were herded off a TAM airlines plane whose cabin filled with smoke after being struck by lightning Saturday shortly before takeoff. The aircraft was undamaged and none of the 46 passengers was injured, said Denise Bandeira, a spokeswoman for the Curitiba office of Infraero. The passengers returned after an inspection of the plane and landed safely in Sao Paulo about two hours later, Bandeira said. No one answered calls to offices of TAM Linhas Aereas SA in Sao Paulo and Curitiba. Brazil's aviation sector suffers from chronic underinvestment in radar, runways and other infrastructure, pilots and aviation experts say. Safety upgrades, backup systems and air-traffic-control training have been delayed for years, even amid a boom in flights across South America. Radar failures and air-traffic-controller strikes prompted mass cancellations and delays nationwide last year, stranding thousands of passengers. A TAM airlines jet barreled off the rain-soaked runway at the Congonhas airport in July 2007, killing 199 people. The cause of the crash has not yet been determined. TAM is one of two carriers that have dominated airline traffic in Brazil since the collapse several years ago of Varig, the nation's former flagship carrier.