domingo, 14 de dezembro de 2008

Biased at birth: the CENIPA report on flight Gol 1907

Biased at birth: the CENIPA report on Flight Gol 1907

The report by CENIPA, the Brazilian Air Force's accident investigation body, reveals the lack of transparency and control by society of a sector that is vital not only for the country's economy, but for the life and safety of thousands of people.

The Air Force took more than two years to release a report for which, according to specialists familiar with the subject, it would have been enough to have a group meeting of the professionals involved, examining the vast gamut of evidence that the accident left, to have released the causes of the terrible accident. But speed doesn't interest those who investigate (Police), indict (Prosecutors' Office) and accuse (Military Courts). While it is said that the Air Force did not indicate those to blame, this is not entirely true, because this report will be used in the investigation against the controllers and pilots, pointed to , according to the news, as the principal culprits in the accident.

As was to be expected, there was not a note on the various irregularities involving the Air Force itself and which were the object of investigations by the Labor Prosecutors' Office in São Paulo, the press, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers - IFATCA and the Federal Court of Audit. Among the irregularities are: constant - if not daily - breakdowns in radars, principally those located in Manaus and Recife, and generalized failures in radio frequencies causing aircraft to fly blind through the skies of Brazil.

It took two years to affirm that everything is all right, although the fact have, in a glaring fashion, demonstrated just the contrary. We delivered more than 1000 pages detailing serious incidents that occurred over a two-year period to a Senate investigative committee. These resulted in accidents or near-accidents, and it's worth noting, another catastrophe did not happen only by chance or through pilots' evasive action.

Nor was there a note on the promiscuity existing between Gol and TAM airlines and the military and regulatory authorities; trading of favors; trafficking of influence; and, much less, the strong suspicion raised by the Court of Audit of $10 million dollars being diverted between the Air Force and the private company ATECH, the same that was disqualified from the SIVAM radar project for fraud.

Putting the blame on the controllers and on the pilots is a clever tactic which leaves to one side the true causes of the aviation collapse, which is only in a state of dormancy from which it can awaken at any moment, with renewed vigor and intensity.

I usually made a comparison, and then a question, comparing the aviation blackout with the electric energy shortage of several years back. In the latter, causes raised were lack of planning and investment, never being considered, at any time, the workers' responsibility, even because, as far as is known, the worker doesn't decide where, when and if there will be an investment in this or that area. In the face of this one must question why in the aviation blackout the blame, preponderantly if not exclusively, fell on the workers. Is it because they're the weakest link in the chain?

Finally, nothing was said about the controllers' extremely poor working conditions, widely divulged by the media, their poor training, and the failure of the Air Force to meet the commitment assumed before the International Civil Aviation Organization - ICAO, the United Nations body for International Civil Aviation, that our controllers have an advanced level of English by the end of this ending year.

What's worse is that, faced with a report that was biased at birth, seeing that it was elaborated by those in charge of air traffic control, there remains a fundamental paradigm: profit at any price, fly in any manner, after all, according to TAM's regulations, Rule 1 is "Nothing Replaces Profit."

On not having the courage to look within itself and demand resources for the correction of the irregularities, poor management, poor training, and to acquire new equipment and modernize existing ones, it places us, all of us, trailing behind the economic interests and the professionalism of the controllers who the Air Force picked as the culprits. Because it is they who, even poorly paid, working under very poor conditions, having to fulfill typically military occupations on their days off from an activity considered stressful by the World Health Organization, who continue daily avoiding collisions in Brazil's "heavens".

Finally, the report is only the fulfillment of a bureaucratic formality. Without the pilot intentionally turning off the transponder - anyone who does that is a murderer or a suicide -, how could it be proved that that happened in the face of the Brasilia and Manaus radar failures which, absolutely, are not reliable.

Our system is full of flaws, its management is not professional, but based on hierarchy rather than technical competence. The report is entirely based on hypotheses and as such, it is at the mercy of "if" this, and "if" that.

A deception for all, principally for the families which clamor for Justice asking for the conviction of the North American pilots, while the true culprits are all right here. Worse, occupying the same jobs for decades without any opposition, in the face of the ineffectiveness of the Ministry of Defense, a Ministry which never has truly taken hold in Brazil, that is, our military is subordinate to the Civil Power only on paper.

It is a disservice to the country, an affront to the intelligence of the common man, to say that everything that happened during the aviation crisis has been surpassed because the error was the fault of this controller or that. The opportunity is lost to learn from the error and save lives in the future, given that the first commandment in the "barracks" is that soldiers don't make mistakes, they're almost supermen, and the system is perfect. The whole world, which has its air traffic control systems in the hands of civilians, except in time of war, is wrong and we are right. One asks what system is this, that denies the obvious, its incompetence, bad management, and incapacity to manage a complex system, dynamic and extremely profitable, characteristics which do not go along with bureaucracy, rigid discipline and hierarchy in an eminently civil sector. Air defense is, yes, a constitutional attribution of the Air Force as one of the branches of our Armed Forces. Civil aviation, as its name says, has nothing to do with sovereignty, but with progress and the right of people to come and go. In time of peace, that requires technicians and workers who are well-trained and well-paid so that they can continue to be what they are all over the world: the angels of the passengers in the heavens!

Fábio Fernandes
Federal Labor Prosecutor

2 comentários:

songbird disse...

Dear Mr. Fernandes,

You have hit the nail on the head. The military hierarchy is not suitable for commanding Civil Air Traffic Control. In Europe Spain and Italy were the last countries where ATC changed from military to civil, some 25 years ago. How things have evolved in Europe you may see in the verdict on the Uberlingen crash of 2001, where Swiss management was blamed for institutional shortcomings and not the individual controller who made a judgement error (but he was murdered by a victim's relative).
I hope your convincing contribution will help to eventually transfer civil ATC from the military to a civil administration.
I wish you success and please continue your efforts, in the interest of aviation safety.

(retired Head of ATC Development)

Anônimo disse...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!
And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :)