US Pilots Boycott Brazil’s Unfriendly Skies

Denis Breslin, communications chairman of the Allied Pilots Association (APA), an entity that represents American Airlines 13,000 pilots has recommended to all US airmen to avoid flying over Brazil’s air space.

Breslin argues that they risk being jailed and charged with murder in case of an accident. Captain Breslin told reporters that he is sickened by what is happening in Brazil to two of his colleagues.
After the accident with Boeing 737 of Gol airline, which left 154 people dead, the pilots of a small jet, a Legacy, that was being taken from is factory in São José dos Campos, São Paulo, to the United States, had their American passports confiscated.

The Brazilian Federal Police has also opened an investigation to determine whether they should be blamed for the September 29 accident in a desolate area of the Brazilian jungle.

The two pilots are Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladin. Paladin used to work for American Airlines, but was furloughed after Sept. 11. He stil remains on the active pilots list though and might be called back to the airline company.

Captain Sam Mayer, chairman of the APA, informed that several pilots who work for smaller companies are already avoiding Brazil when they can. Mayer says this is the best thing to do because "nobody wants to go to a place where after suffering an accident, you can end up in jail and have the keys thrown away."

He calls it loathsome the idea that someone can be jailed just because he is doing his work. "No pilot starts the day thinking: "Today I’m going out to kill people," he said.

A Brazilian prosecutor has asked a judge to indict the American pilots for manslaughter charging them with having provoked the accident between the Boeing and the Legacy.

According to Mayer, in cases like that the procedure is very different in the US. In the United States, he says, an investigation would be started and the pilot might be sued, but he wouldn’t be arrested like that and charged with manslaughter before the inquiry is concluded.

For him, what is happening in Brazil – the seizing of the passports and the manslaughter charge – is a complete absurd and creates a "terrible precedent."

He is not suggesting, however, that he knows who is guilty of the accident: if the pilots or the Brazilian air controllers. "This is for the investigation to find out," he states.

Joe Sharkey, the New York Times’ reporter who was aboard the Legacy plane when the collision happened says that he fears for the American pilots. He told during an interview with BBC radio’s The  World program that he felt hostility in the interrogation he, the pilots and the other passengers in the jet were subjected to. He was interrogated from late afternoon, on September 20, till early morning the next day.

As an example of hostility he mentioned that he had to take a picture without his shirt so that the interrogators would have proof that he had not been "tortured" during the interrogation.

Sharkey also lambasted some "populist" sections of the Brazilian press that portrayed the story as if the accident had been caused by "capitalists hanging around air space and killing 154 people."

The Times reporter once again criticized the Brazilian air control especially in the Amazon region and revealed that he wanted to stay in Brazil a little longer but was urged to leave Brazil at once. "You haven’t been told yet that you are arrested, so you should leave today." And that’s what he did.

On September 12, more than two weeks before the Boeing-Legacy accident, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered the recall of the same transponder model used in the Legacy involved in the crash.

The device is manufactured by the American company Honeywell. The FAA has given 18 months for all such transponders to be fixed by the manufacturer.

The failure in the equipment might be the explanation for the accident. Some investigators in Brazil have accused the American pilots of turning off the transponder this way preventing the Boeing and the Brazilian air control to detect the little jet. A working transponder would have prevented the collision between the two aircraft.

The wives of both pilots arrived, this Saturday, October 7, in Rio de Janeiro, to visit their husband. Ellen Lepore, 41, and Melissa Paladin, 33, came from New York in an American Airlines flight. They went directly from the Tom Jobim International Airport to the  JW Marriott hotel, in Copacabana, where the pilots are staying, without talking to reporters.


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