A veteran air traffic controller from Brazil has shown on Brazilian TV, this Sunday, November 26, a radar image from BrasÀlia’s air control center (Cindacta 1), which according to experts is the proof that there is a "blind spot" in the area where a Boeing 737 and a Legacy executive jet collided causing Brazil’s worst air accident ever.
The picture exhibited in one of the most popular shows in Brazilian TV, the Fantástico, which is aired by Globo TV network, displays a radar photo with a blue area. The blue region shown in the monitor represents the space covered by the system. In reality, however, what appears on the screen is much smaller than the real area the Brasília air traffic control center should cover.
The picture contains a huge black hole, a blind spot not covered by radar, which extends for thousands of square miles.
In his TV interview the controller, who remained anonymous for fear of retaliation, also pointed out that the air control equipment being used by Brazil is in very bad shape and often obsolete. Some of the devices are over 30 years old.
He told that is not uncommon that workers in the control center get ghost planes in their monitors. In these cases, the controller sees two planes in his equipment even though, in reality, there is only one aircraft. The work of the controller when this happens is to decide which is the ghost plane and which is the real one.
Another problem are static images on the screen that show an airplane in movement as if it had stopped like a helicopter. This happens when the system fails or the computer freezes.
The nameless controller revealed that in June 2001, a collision between two commercial jets, one from Varig and another from Vasp was avoided just three minutes before the crash. At that time, both jets were in the same route, but flying in opposite directions. The collision was avoided because a controller found the mistake and warned one of the planes to immediately change its path.
The Fantástico aired a transcript of the conversation between two air controllers in this near-collision incident between a Varig MD-11 and a Vasp Airbus. It occurred over Alta Floresta, in Mato Grosso, the same state in which the the Boeing tragedy occurred September 29:
Controller 1: What level has the Varig 2200 reported?
Controller 2: 310.
Controller 1: Good grief! Both are on the same level here. Call him because he is on the same level of a traffic coming in three minutes.
After alerting the pilot, they continue talking:
Controller 1: Brasília made a huge mistake here!
Controller 2: This is embarrassing! Hasn’t Brasília communicated anything, brother?
The Fantástico concluded that the incident may have happened over five years ago, but the problems with air traffic control in Brazil haven’t changed since then.
Commenting on the old near-accident the controller told Globo TV that the same thing can occur today: "This because the equipment still presents the same failures. We have a hard time to talk, the radio frequencies are bad. And we have an aggravating circumstance today: the number of flights has significantly increased."
And he adds: "There are a lot of problems with the frequency. You can pick up cellular phone, pirate radio and sometimes even official radio." Old equipment can be really scary: "We have radars from 30 years ago, which are still in operation in Brazil. They are obsolete. But we keep refurbishing them."
Planes that fly in the huge Amazon black area can have (sometimes spotty) radio contact with the Brasília control tower, but the plane does not show in the radar screen simply because there’s no radar coverage in the region.
The controller can talk to the pilot but cannot see what’s happening. The collision between the Boeing and the Legacy, which left 154 dead and many unanswered questions, happened inside this black hole. "Knowing what I know I don’t feel secure flying in this area," revealed the incognito controller.