Brazilian Air Tragedy: Legacy’s Controller Isn’t Fit for the Post

The Brazilian air traffic controller who was monitoring the Legacy executive jet that collided on September 29 with a Boeing 737 killing all 154 people aboard wasn’t prepared for the job and had been just rushed into the position by insistence of the military brass, against the objection of his instructor who didn’t agree with the arrangement.

This new piece of information is being published today, November 23, by the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, which says that the Brazilian Air Force authorities’ insistence in approving new flight controllers due to the serious lack of staff may have led to Brazil’s worst air tragedy ever.

The controller in charge of the Legacy, which was piloted by two Americans, says the newspaper, after interviewing other flight controllers from Brasí­lia, had little hands-on experience and had received his certification earlier this year, well after his class’s colleagues.

Instructors have been critical of a system that puts pressure on them to let controllers pass the exam even when they are not ready for the demanding job.

To become a flight controller in Brazil people go through a course and at the end have to pass at least five of six practical tests. Commenting on the man responsible for the Legacy, a Brasí­lia instructor said that he was not up to the task:

"Not because he was incompetent but because he was someone who had difficulty concentrating. Several times he was warned that he couldn’t be that absentminded. This is not his fault, but it is a character trait that in normal circumstances would have prevented him from being  qualified for the post. However, after much insistence, he managed to be approved."

And he added: "During his instruction, it was evident that he was slow, but this the kind of work that requires agility."

Even after the Boeing tragedy, some controllers disclosed,  the Air Force continued trying to bring unqualified Air Defense sergeants to work in the civilian air traffic control. More recently, however, instructors are refusing to accept those who have not enough training.

"This is not an English language course that you can increase the number of classes so that people can learn faster. Here, each dot represents 150 lives," says the instructor.

Another information that just came to light is that at the time of the collision between the Legacy and the Boeing the air traffic controllers’ supervisor at the Brasí­lia tower, also known as Cindacta 1, wasn’t at his post. The men in the tower had no supervision because the lieutenant who should be there had to take over for an Air Force chief at the main control room.

The Air Force is not making any comment on this absence, maintaining that the details of what happened in the control tower on September 29 are object of official investigation.

They also refuse to talk about reports that the controller in charge of the small jet was not qualified for the task. Defense Minister, Waldir Pires, however, repeated this Wednesday, November 22, that all professionals in the Brazilian air traffic control are fully qualified.

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